Yassamine Mather calls for international solidarity with Iranian workers
Over the last two weeks the number of strikes in Iranian factories and workplaces has risen considerably. Workers have taken action in major plants such as South Pars Gasfields, Alborz Lastic Sazi, Ghaem Shahr textiles, Safa Louleh (pipe manufacturers), as have city council workers in Abadan. Demands have also been raised by nurses and other hospital workers, teachers and civil servants.
Some of the most important oil and gas plants have been hit, as well as key manufacturing industries. In other words, both the traditional and modern sectors. In addition to these strikes, we have also seen the first protests by retired workers opposed to a reduction in price concessions for pensioners, reduced from 15% to 9%. Retired employees demonstrated outside the majles (Islamic parliament). In some ways this was as important as the strikes by workers in employment.
How should we analyse the fact that so many workers’ protests have occurred simultaneously? Is it just a coincidence? Of course, it is impossible to predict how things will evolve, but, given the level of repression against workers and the left, these events mark a significant development in the current stage of economic and political struggles inside Iran. So what are the factors behind this new wave of labour unrest?
There is no doubt that sanctions are creating widespread economic devastation, to a degree that is unprecedented over the last 30 years. The drop in the price of oil on the world market, the reduction of production levels for both oil and gas (itself a result of the failure to renew productive capacity), the fall in non-oil exports, bankruptcies and closures in production and manufacturing, the rise in the rate of inflation in housing and essential goods, the plunder of the country’s economic resources through the expropriation of privatised industries and services by factions of the regime, the colossal rise in the price of medical services and drugs – all this points to an escalation of the economic and social crisis.
By November 9, long queues were forming at petrol stations, as motorists expecting a 400% price rise were trying to fill up their tanks. But low-paid workers are the main victims of the current situation. According to an employee of Ghaem Shahr Textile Industries, many of his colleagues have been forced to remove their children from education (both high school and university) so that they can feed their families on the meagre income from their temporary jobs.
Many small and medium-sized firms have already been bankrupted. However, what we are witnessing now is the effects of the crisis on some of the country’s major industrial units, exposing the extent of the problems facing the whole economy. In the past the Islamic regime could rely on oil income and unbridled imports to deal with the demand for basic consumption goods. But now the ruling elite is faced with two important problems: a fall in the price of oil and a regime of suffocating sanctions.
The new round of sanctions has not only made it difficult to import many items, leading to spiralling price rises for most goods: it has also become a serious political weapon threatening the survival of the regime. The regime cannot ignore the problems of production in major industries and this has given the workers in such plants an opportunity to raise demands regarding wages and working conditions.
All this has occurred at a time when the government has been pushing through the abolition of price subsidies – or promoting ‘targeted subsidies’, as it prefers to say. Despite threats to punish shopkeepers who increase prices charged for essential goods, such as bread, meat, sugar, cooking oil and dairy produce, prices for these items are rising daily. Compared to last year, the cost of bread is likely to have increased five or six times by the end of this Iranian month, while cooking oil will have more than doubled and cuts of lamb tripled.
This week, after months of denial, Iran’s Central Bank admitted the true extent of the rise in the rate of inflation. Statistics issued by the bank and other government organisations, including for the cost of living, are given in dollars, even though Iranian workers are paid in tomans (1,000 tomans = one dollar). Last week the price of imported meat in Tehran supermarkets was $30 a kilo – more than in most stores in London or New York. The average wage is $400 a month.
We should not forget that the removal of subsidies on essential food items was part of a $100 billion cuts programme; an integral component of the regime’s adherence to neoliberal economic policies under the terms of its five-year plan. However, uncertainty over the changes was one of the factors behind a $6 billion slide in the value of Tehran’s stock exchange two weeks ago, with trade volume plummeting 63% and share prices dropping by 43% in just one week.
All this will inevitably lead to increased unemployment. Official figures put Iran’s jobless rate at 14.6%. However, this is far below the true figure. The government of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has revised the definition of what constitutes unemployment a number of times. Currently someone doing just one hour of paid work per week is not considered unemployed. But no-one doubts that for many the prospect of finding a job is non-existent.
The government’s fear of food riots following the abolition of subsidies is so real that even before the deadline for full implementation it stationed special military units in poor districts to ‘maintain security’ – in other words, prepare for potential confrontation with the masses. The police presence in Tehran and other cities was also increased and many were deployed on major streets and outside supermarkets. Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Guards’ Tehran commander announced that a special task force has been formed to deal with any economic protests. On November 8, several underground rap musicians were arrested in Tehran, and last week hundreds of young men and women were detained in what the police termed a “security cleansing”. The press has been warned to steer clear of any controversial coverage of the subsidy cuts.
In working class districts, everyone is clearly worried about Ahmadinejad’s plans for ‘reforming’ the economy. Of course, a combination of workers’ protests and riots in shanty towns would be a nightmare for the Islamic regime, but the key element is the strength and organisation of the working class. Given the weakness of the left, we cannot expect the working class to be in a position to take full advantage of the current situation. However, there is no doubt that in these exceptional times the success of the shanty towns struggles, the defeat of the abolition of subsidies and the struggles of pensioners all depend on the proletariat.
As in 1979, Iranian workers are in a position to make their mark in the fight against poverty and exploitation and for democracy. In pursuing these goals they need international solidarity and it is part of the role of Hands Off the People of Iran to mobilise such support.
Yassamine Mather exposes the concerted efforts of the Islamic regime against Iranian women
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the 43 year old mother of two who awaits the death penalty by stoning in Iran on adultery charges brought by the sharia court in Azerbaijan province, is on the cover of many western newspapers and the subject of news broadcasts in Europe and the US. Last Sunday, protesters, including philosophers and singers, were among those taking part in a demonstration in Paris in solidarity with Mrs Ashtiani, while similar protests took place in cities throughout the world.
One of her lawyers has been forced to leave Iran, seeking political asylum in Scandinavia. European ministers, presidents and MPs are defending her right to live, yet in her home town of Tabriz very few seem to be aware of her plight. The local media has not mentioned her case except as a small column in the ‘accidents’ pages, official Iranian TV channels do not cover her story and, arriving in New York this week, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed: “reports of a woman being sentenced to killing by stoning in Iran were fabricated, made up and part of Western propaganda.”. All this after many official statements by Iran’s foreign ministry that the stoning of Mrs Ashtiani will be reviewed!.
It appears that her sentence, like the exaggerated claims about Iran’s nuclear and military capabilities, or the spying case against the three hikers (one of whom was released on the eve of Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York), are for foreign consumption. At times it looks as if the Islamic regime and its president are determined to attract publicity even if it is negative publicity. Of course, it is ordinary Iranians who pay the price of this adventurism.
Sakineh Ashtiani was first tried on May 15 2006 by a court in Tabriz, and pleaded guilty to an “illicit relationship”, although the so-called adultery occurred after the death of her husband. She was sentenced to 99 lashes, and the sentence was carried out that year. In September 2006, her case was re-opened when another court was prosecuting one of the two men involved in the death of her husband. She was then convicted of adultery while still married, and sentenced to death by stoning. She later retracted her confession. The case was held in Persian; though she only speaks Azeri.
Every time the Islamic regime faced a political crisis, a new crime was added to Sakineh’s case; and now, as Ahmadinejad embarks on a wave of media interviews in the US, we are suddenly told there is no ‘stoning’ case. Those people in Iran who know about her plight agree she is the victim of a cynical ploy by Ahmadinejad and his supporters to deliberately attract international condemnations – part of a strategy to divert attention from internal economic and political problems.
No one should be in any doubt about the concerted efforts of the Islamic regime against Iranian women, however. Hardliners are trying to reintroduce a family-law bill that is recognised as discriminatory against women not only by moderates but also by some staunch conservatives. For example, one article of the bill provides men with the right to marry a second wife without consent from the first.
As predicted, once the reformist faction was marginalised in terms of government executive power, conflict between Ahmadinejad’s government and the parliament, or majlis, deepened. The main parliamentary group, known as the principlist faction, is headed by the speaker, Ali Ardashir Larijani. The conflict has paralysed the state, with Ahmadinejad angrily withdrawing a number of bills presented by his government, claiming that they had been changed beyond recognition as they passed through various majlis committees. The government has stopped sending its decisions to lawmakers for confirmation, and it routinely fails to implement laws adopted by parliament.
In the last few weeks, another faction – the ‘pragmatists’ led by former Islamic revolutionary guard corps (IRGC) commander Mohsen Rezai – has also been critical of the government.
The ideological battles between Ahmadinejad and the conservatives has entered a new phase. He is constantly attacked for controversial statements made by his self appointed chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. In a complete departure from all the ‘principles’ of the Islamic regime, on August 4 Mashaei told a gathering of Iranian expatriates that “the country should introduce the ideology of Iran, rather than Islam, to the world … Islam would be lost if it weren’t for Iran”. And, a week later: “… if we want to present the truth embodied in Islam, we must fly the flag of Iran.” His remarks were attacked as heresy by conservative clerics who accused Ahmadinejad and Mashaei of advocating nationalism and secularism.
In early September, Ahmadinejad and Mashaei presided over the opening of the Cyrus ‘human rights’ cylinder exhibition. The cylinder was transferred to Iran from the British Museum in early September and will be on display for four months. Some regard it as the world’s first declaration of human rights, and a symbol of tolerance and respect for different peoples and faiths made under the orders of Cyrus II, founder of the Persian empire under the Achaemenid dynasty, in 539 BCE following the conquest of Babylon.
Herodotus and Aeschylus – Greeks who lived after Cyrus – praised him and called him merciful. The Bible describes him as the “anointed one”, because he allowed exiled Jews to return to Israel. However, modern historians doubt this flattering version of events. According Josef Wiesehöfer, professor of ancient history at the university of Kiel, in Germany, Cyrus attained his goals with “carrots and sticks”, but in truth, he was a violent ruler like all others.
Inside Iran this sudden obsession with ‘old Persia’ has been reminiscent of the last days of the shah. His lavish celebrations of 2,500 years of Iranian monarchy at the palace of Persepolis, and the reciting of Cyrus’s charter marked the beginning of the end of his rule. So Iranians of a variety of political persuasions are not impressed by Ahmadinejad calling Cyrus a ‘major prophet’ and draping a basij scarf around the shoulders of a man dressed as an Achaemenid soldier at Iran’s national museum during the inauguration of the Cyrus cylinder. All this has led to a new title for Ahmadinejad supporters: Archemedis Bassiji.
During the last few weeks Ahmadinejad has made a number of new appointments: Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as his special envoy to the Middle East; Hamid Baghei, head of Iran’s cultural heritage foundation, as special envoy for Asian affairs; deputy foreign minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh has been named Iran’s envoy on Caspian affairs; and Abolfazl Zohrevand, deputy head of Iran’s supreme national security council, is now the president’s envoy to Afghanistan. None of these appointments were approved by the supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamenei, who decides foreign policy issues; and, of course, they are a challenge to the dominant conservative factions of the majlis as well as a blow to Iran’s foreign ministry and foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaki, who is considered a pragmatist, and whom many believed was the supreme leader’s appointee in the government following the disputed 2009 presidential elections.
On September 7, 122 MPs in Iran’s 290-seat majlis called Ahmadinejad’s move “illegal”, and the supreme leader warned against duplication of foreign policy roles, reasserting his support for foreign ministry officials.
Mashaei has established his own news agency, Mashanews, which is campaigning for an Iran without clerics (presumably with military nationalists in power?): “Iran needs someone like Mashaei to get rid of mullahs once and for all in Iran and bring back the great civilization of Iran minus the Arab mullahs who have polluted and destroyed Iran for the past 31 years.” Almost word for word what royalists and ultra-nationalist Iranians have been saying.
The Islamic reformist reaction came from ex-president Seyed Mohammad Khatami: “I don’t want to speak about individuals. I believe that the clergy has played an important role in the regime. The thesis ‘Islam minus the clergy’ is fundamentally senseless, just like medicine without doctors, and has imperialist roots. Its goal is to marginalize the clergy from the arena and to give room to those who have deviated and have fundamental problems with the Islamic revolution and the regime. Therefore, this movement will not find a path among the devout and the principlist.”
So here we are – Ahmadinejad and royalists on one side, Khatami, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karoubi on the opposite side. Iran’s supreme leader has a difficult choice to make; his balancing act between the warring factions of the regime cannot last long and everyone inside and outside Iran is well aware of this.
The economy is in ruins. Sanctions are taking their toll and the government is paralysed. Sanctions on the banking and finance sector started three years ago; however it is only in the last few months that the new round of tougher sanctions and investment conditions has created problems for ordinary Iranians. Morteza Massoumzadeh of the Iranian business council in Dubai explains: “During this period we have seen the volume of economic activity in some cases drop by more than 50%”. New sanctions will make Iranian foreign exchange trade more difficult.
Economist Bijan Bidabadi told the BBC that sanctions on banking has put pressure on the economy. Some private banks have tried to substitute for banks listed in the sanctions bill, but their resources are too limited to cope with the country’s trade dealings.
Many importers and exporters are using loans to pay for transportation, others are entering deals without formal invoices and this will affect the economy. As greed, lack of spare parts (due to sanctions) and corruption continue to destroy manufacturing, including food production and agriculture, most of the country’s basic necessities are imported at colossal prices. Iranians are complaining that the price of most basic food items in major cities is more than the price of the same item in Europe. Most people, even amongst the professional classes, cannot afford to buy meat.
Last week ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the clerical assembly of experts, told the annual gathering of the assembly that Iran would become a “dictatorship” unless current policies are reversed. He revealed the true extent of the sanctions:
“We have never been faced with so many sanctions … I would like to ask you and all the country’s officials to take the sanctions seriously and not as a joke.”
The remarks were aimed at Ahmadinejad, who has brushed away concerns about sanctions, calling them “pathetic” and less effective than “a used handkerchief”.
Disputes within the many factions of the Islamic regime have paralysed the functioning of the state. It is no wonder ‘regime change from above’ is once more openly discussed by the US administration, while Israel and ‘hawks’ in the US Republican Party are once more calling for direct military action. On August 17 John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations told Fox news that “Israel has until the weekend to launch a military strike on Iran’s first nuclear plant before the humanitarian risk of an attack becomes too great”. Bolton was referring to the fact that on August 22 a Russian company was expected to help Iran start loading nuclear fuel into the Bushehr reactor. Contrary to all Barack Obama’s election claims, many of this summer’s statements regarding Iran’s nuclear programme and the need for regime change, as well as the dramatic escalation in the levels of sanctions imposed on the country, remind us of the Bush administration’s obsession with regime change in Iraq.
Let us be clear; Iran it is not an anti-imperialist state; its economy is that of a capitalist dictatorship; its foreign policy is limited to irrational, reactionary anti-Western rhetoric; and, given serious internal political conflict and its association with the occupation governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is neither in a position to challenge US aggression in the region, nor to support Palestinians. Yet, at a time of economic crisis, the hegemon capitalist world power is in no position to tolerate a rogue state in a strategic part of the Middle East. The severity of the sanctions can only be explained if we take these facts into account. Iran’s clerical rulers are busy fighting each other, the economy is in a terrible state and the US and its allies hope sanctions will bring about their desired regime change.
Reformists and US style regime change
Since the disputed elections of last summer, sections of the international left have tried to reduce protests by millions of Iranians to an imperialist plot for a colour revolution. In the US the World Workers Party stood firmly behind Ahmadinejad, denying any fraud took place and heralding the Iranian president as the champion of the poor, while leftist academic James Petras wrote:
“The demography of voting reveals a real class polarization pitting high income, free market oriented, capitalist individualists against working class, low income, community based supporters of a ‘moral economy’ in which usury and profiteering are limited by religious precepts.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Far from being an opponent of privatisation or a champion of the poor, Ahmadinejad’s presidency has coincided with a period of unprecedented privatisations, deregulation of work, mass unemployment and a growing gap between rich and poor, and the abolition of all subsidies.
As Iran steadily moves up in the ranks of the most corrupt world states, contrary to James Petras’s claims it is the upper classes, the owners of capital, who benefit from the current government’s policies. Dictatorships work well for those seeking maximum exploitation of labour. Who but a neo-conservative Islamic regime could have created conditions forcing car plant workers (among the elite of the Iranian working class) work three consecutive shifts in order to survive?
Owners of major capital have benefited from the policies of consecutive Islamic governments, especially since 1988. That is why they tolerate minor inconveniences caused by the interference of religion in private lives. In fact, unlike the working classes and the poor, they are not too concerned about sexual apartheid, bans on alcohol, restrictions on gatherings. They can afford to bribe their way into living a Los Angeles style life right in the middle of the capital city of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And both in maintaining a Western lifestyle and in their ultra rightwing Persian nationalism, they have an ally in Ahmadinejad’s most trusted deputy, Mashaei.
On the political scene, the leaders of the Green movement are not considered regime-change forces by the US. There are many reasons for this, amongst them the fact that they remain loyal to the constitution of the Islamic republic. Also because their coming to power would not be seen by anyone as the US regaining control of Iran, not a sufficient enough reversal of the 1979 revolution. On the contrary, they remain the last card of the Islamic republic, a safeguard against downfall of the entire regime. The overwhelming majority of the political groups and parties behind the foundation of the Islamic republic in 1979, as well as senior ayatollahs, both in the council of experts (ayatollah Rafsanjani) and those acting as source of shia guidance (ayatollahs Yousef Sanei, Bayat-Zajani, Dastgheyb, etc) are currently in the reformist camp.
This above all else explains why Iran’s supreme leader tolerates this legal opposition and why so often in recent weeks his office played the role of intermediary and peacemaker between conservatives (the majority faction in the majlis) and reformists, even at the cost of isolating Ahmadinejad. Of course, should other more trusted allies, such as royalists, republicans and former religious figures currently gathered around the regime change camp in Washington, fail to increase their support base, the US and its allies might then consider supporting leaders of the Green movement.
Opposition to the entire regime and the reformist camp
The last few weeks have been turbulent times for the reformist movement. Despite new arrests, the return to prison of activists on bail and impending court cases, sections of this movement seem to have found new confidence in confronting the regime. Attempts at gaining televised confessions from imprisoned reformists have failed and some have started proceedings against their jailers and torturers. Karoubi and Mousavi have launched a new satellite and internet station. However the gap between the radical young supporters of the Green movement and a conservative and rather ineffective leadership remains as wide as ever.
Two weeks ago Karoubi’s house was surrounded by a pro-Ahmadinejad mob who smashed windows and damaged security cameras; but they had to retreat having failed to gain any support from revolutionary guards. Even amongst Iran’s paramilitary forces there are divided loyalties between conservatives and neo-conservative pro-Ahmadinejad forces. In a clear sign of shifting alliances, revolutionary guard commanders issued a statement condemning the attack on Karoubi’s house. On September 15 plain clothes security agents raided the office of Mousavi and took away computers and some of his belongings. His office and website claimed this marked a “new phase in restrictions” on him.
Throughout the 14 months since the rigged elections, leaders of the Green movement have complained about repression and attacks by security forces. However no Green movement supporters have faced the kind of repression meted out day in day out to labour activists (such as Tehran busworkers Reza Shahabi and Mansoor Ossanlou), to defenders of women’s rights such as Shiva Nazarahari or to hundreds of leftist student activists arrested in the last few months. Having said that, a positive aspect of the continued internal conflict between the various factions of the regime is that it allows a limited breathing space to workers, women and students who are waging the real struggle for regime change from below – its revolutionary overthrow.
While conflicts between plain clothes security forces and military and Pasdar leaders who call them ‘rogue agents’ are escalating, reformists and conservatives are attempting a new alliance against neo-conservatives around Ahmadinejad. With severe sanctions and renewed talk of military attacks against Iran, all of this heralds a new phase in the post-election period.
There is the danger of increased repression, imprisonment of all opposition figures, imposition of terror and further attacks on the working class. However there is also a possibility that the cracks between the majlis and the president are too deep to permit a reconciliation, that protests will continue and that the next round of mass protests against unemployment, abolition of subsidies and the lack of freedom and democracy will be more radical and effective than last year’s demonstrations.
As the US steps up it efforts to provoke regime change from above, Yassamine Mather looks at the reasons for the failure of the working class to win leadership of the opposition movement
New sanctions imposed by the United States government last week were the most significant hostile moves against Iran’s Islamic Republic since 1979. They marked a period of unprecedented coordination led by the US to obtain the support of the United Nations and European Union.
After months of denying their significance, the government of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was forced to react by setting up an emergency counter-sanctions unit, whilst Iranian aviation officials accused the UK, Germany and the United Arab Emirates of refusing to supply fuel for civilian Iranian airplanes. As it turned out, this was not true. However, the EU banned most of Iran Air’s jets from flying over its territory, because of safety concerns directly related to previous sanctions. It is said that most of the national airline’s fleet, including Boeing 727s and 747s and its Airbus A320s, are unsafe because the company has not been able to replace faulty components.
The US is adamant that ‘severe’ sanctions are necessary to stop Iran’s attempts at becoming a military nuclear power. Scare stories are finding their way into the pages of the mass media. According to US defence secretary Robert Gates, Iran is developing the capacity to fire scores, or perhaps hundreds, of missiles at Europe. Ten days after making that claim, Gates alleged that Iran had enough enriched uranium to be able to build two atom bombs within two years.
However, it is difficult to believe the Obama administration’s claims that the new sanctions have anything to do with Iran’s nuclear capabilities, which is why we should consider other explanations.
Why is there such an urgency to increase the pressure on Iran? One likely possibility is that the Obama administration has observed the divisions within the current government (between neoconservatives, led by Ahmadinejad, and traditional conservatives, such as the Larijani brothers, who control Iran’s executive, parliamentary and judicial system) and sees an opportunity for regime change from above.
After weeks of infighting between Ahmadinejad and the conservatives, involving angry accusations and counter-accusations in parliament over Azad University, this week the reformist website, Rah-e-Sabz, posted an article claiming that “the supreme leader and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani had agreed a resolution of the conflict” over who controls Azad.
The university, one of the world’s largest, is part of a private chain with branches throughout the country and is considered a stronghold of Islamic ‘reformists’. Since 2004 Ahmadinejad has been trying to reorganise its board of governors in order to take back control. When the Islamic parliament opposed his moves to replace the board, the Guardian Council, which has to approve every bill, took the side of the Ahmadinejad camp, creating yet another stalemate between the two conservative groups within the ruling elite.
The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, had no choice but to intervene. He did so by ordering the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution to stop Ahmadinejad’s attempts to overrule parliament (in other words, he supported Rafsanjani, who, together with members of his family, are trustees and on the board of the university), In return Rafsanjani publicly praised Khamenei.
Some see this as a clever move. For the first time since last year’s disputed presidential elections, Khamenei has been forced to take a public stance against Ahmadinejad, resulting in a retreat by the president and his allies in the revolutionary guards. Azad University remains under the control of Rafsanjani and his family. No doubt if the rift between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad continues, the balance of power could shift in favour of the former president.
Meanwhile, Tehran’s bazaar was on strike for most of last week, in protest at a decision by Iran’s government to raise bazaar taxes by up to 70%. The government declared July 11 and 12 public holidays in 19 Iranian provinces, citing hot weather and dust, but there were rumours that the real reason was to conceal the possibility of strikes on those days.
All this is a reflection of Iran’s political paralysis and the state’s inability to deal with a combination of economic crisis and growing opposition amongst the majority of the population.
Successive Iranian governments have denied the effectiveness of 30 years of crippling sanctions, but most economists inside the country estimate that sanctions have added 35% to the price of every commodity. Iran had been forced to buy spare parts for cars, planes, manufacturing equipment, agricultural machinery, etc on the black market, and now it will be forced to buy refined oil in the same way, causing a further jump in the rate of inflation. The smuggling of refined oil from Iraq started earlier this month, but the quantity received is unlikely to be sufficient to meet demand even during the summer months.
The new financial restrictions that came with the latest sanctions have crippled Iran’s banking and insurance sector. Iran already attracted little foreign investment, but now even China is pulling out of industrial ventures, such as the South Farse oil project. The proposed policing of ships and containers travelling to Iran means shipping insurance rates in the Persian Gulf are now the equivalent of those in war zones.
Despite the absence of the large demonstrations that followed the rigged elections of a year ago, most Iranians agree that the religious state is today weaker than it was in June 2009 (at the height of mass protests) and that could explain renewed interest in the US for regime change from above. At a time when anger against Iran’s rulers and frustration with leaders of the green movement amongst youth and sections of working class is tangible, it is difficult to predict what will happen next. From bloggers to journalists, from students to the unemployed, opponents of the regime are blaming ‘reformist’ leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi for the current stalemate – people’s patience is running out. Could it be that the Obama administration is planning to replace the Islamic Republic with a regime composed of selected exiles, à la Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq or Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan? After all, there is no shortage of former Islamists currently residing in the US who have converted to ‘liberal democracy’, including Iranian disciples of Karl Popper. Such people are paraded daily in the Farsi media and portrayed as the voice of reason.
In contrast to the hesitation and conciliationism of green leaders, others within the opposition have been stepping up their protests against the Islamic regime and two potentially powerful sections – the women’s movement and the workers’ movement – are conducting their own struggles. Yet here too Moussavi’s patronising attitude to both groups (he called on workers to join the green movement to safeguard their interests, while his wife claimed to support women’s rights) have backfired badly. In the words of one feminist activist, the green movement should realise it is one section of the opposition, but not the only voice of the protest movement.
Superficial analysts abroad labelled last year’s anti-dictatorship protesters in Iran as middle class. However, those present at these demonstrations were adamant that workers, students and the unemployed played a huge role. In May, the Centre to Defend Families of the Slain and Detained in Iran published the names of 10 workers who were killed in post-election street protests, and there is considerable evidence that workers, the unemployed and shanty town-dwellers were among the forces that radicalised the movement’s slogans (crossing the red lines imposed by green leaders, such as the call for an end to the entire regime, and for the complete separation of state and religion). In addition we are witnessing an increasing number of workers’ demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes against the non-payment of wages, deteriorating conditions and low pay. The workers’ protest movement has been dubbed a tsunami, and in recent months it has adopted clear political slogans against the dictatorship.
Last week was typical. Five hundred workers staged protests outside Abadan refinery against unpaid wages, blocking the road outside the refinery. Two of their comrades filming the action were arrested, but these workers are adamant they will continue the strikes and demonstrations next week. Three hundred Pars metal workers staged a separate protest against non-payment of wages and cuts in many of the workers’ benefits, such as the bus to and from work and the subsidised canteen, which managers of the privatised company intend to close. Similar protests have taken place in dozens of large and small firms throughout Iran. Most have moved on from purely economic demands to include political slogans against the regime.
However, we still see little coordination between these protests and workers have yet to make their mark as a class aware of its power and historic role. Despite much talk of mushrooming industrial action and even a general strike, so far we have not seen the Iranian working class taking its rightful place at the head of a national movement.
So how can we explain the current situation? A number of points have been raised by the left in Iran:
1. The working class and leftwing activists have faced more severe forms of repression than any other section of the opposition, even prior to June 2009. However, it is difficult to accept that fear of arrest or detention has played any part in the reluctance of workers to make their mark as a political force. Clearly repression has not deterred workers from participating in strikes, taking managers hostage or blocking highways. In fact incarcerated activists include the majority of the leaders of Vahed Bus Company, serving Tehran and its suburbs, the entire leadership of Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers and activists from the Committee to set up Independent Workers’ Organisations.
2. Workers have been misled by the leaders of the green movement. Yet throughout the presidential election debates they did not hear any substantial difference between the economic plans proposed by Moussavi and Karroubi, who, for example, defended privatisation, and those of Ahmadinejad and other conservatives. Workers are opposed to plans for the abolition of state subsidies. However, they remember that this was a plan originally proposed by the ‘reformist’, Mohammad Khatami, during his presidency, as part of the much hated policy of ‘economic readjustment’.
Workers are also well aware that the leaders of the green movement aspire to an Iranian/Islamic version of capitalism, where the bourgeoisie’s prosperity will eventually ‘benefit all’ – an illusion very few workers subscribe to. It should also be noted that the Iranian working class as a modern, urban force is primarily secular, with no allegiance to the Islamic state, and constitutes a growing wing of the protest movement that wants to go beyond adherence to legality and the reform of the current constitution. Kept at arm’s length by leaders of the green movement and yet incapable of asserting its own political line, the working class is facing a dilemma in the current crisis.
3. The opportunist left has diverted the class struggle. However, the Iranian working class is wary of claims made by leaders of the green movement, as well as sections of the opportunist left like Tudeh and the Fedayeen Majority, that the first decade of the Islamic Republic under ayatollah Khomeini constituted the golden years of the revolution. Older worker activists realise that it was the clergy and the Islamic regime that halted the revolution of 1979 and threw it into reverse. The Khomeini years coincided with the worst of the religious repression, and it was not only the radical left who were the victims (thousands were executed), but workers in general. The state was constantly calling on them to make sacrifices, to send their sons to the battle front and produce more for the war economy, while ruthlessly suppressing workers’ independent actions as the work of traitors and spies. So, contrary to the opinion of Tudeh and the Fedayeen Majority, the first decade of Khomeini’s rule – under Moussavi’s premiership, of course – were the dark years for Iranian workers and no amount of rewriting history will change this.
4. The current economic situation is so bad that the working class is unable to fight effectively for anything more than survival. Striking for unpaid wages is symptomatic of this, on top of which there is the threat of losing your job and joining the ranks of the unemployed. In other words, the defensive nature of workers’ struggles hinders their capability to mount a nationwide struggle. Of course, if this argument is correct, the situation will get worse once further sanctions bite. There will be more job losses, more despair amongst the working class.
5. Despite many efforts to create nationwide workers organisations – not only the Committee to set up Independent Workers’ Organisations, but the Network of Iranian Labour Unions (founded in response to the bus drivers’ actions and the imprisonment of their leader, Mansour Osanlou), workers have failed to coordinate protests even on a regional level.
6. The confusion of the left has had a negative impact. Workers have not forgotten how the Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh apologised for and supported the ‘anti-imperialist’ religious state. The majority of the working class was aligned with the left, and so went along with the dismantling of the workers’ shoras (councils) that played such a significant role in the overthrow of the shah’s regime. Later, during Khatami’s presidency (1997-2005), the Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh advocated collaboration with the state-run Islamic factory councils, although the majority of workers considered these anti-trade union organisations, whose main task was to spy on labour activists and support managers in both private and state-owned enterprises. The Shia state claimed to international bodies such as the International Labour Organisation that the councils were genuine trade unions, even though they were set up to destroy labour solidarity within and beyond the workplace. Despite all this the opportunist left not only refused to expose their true function: it called on Iranian workers to join them as a step towards the establishment of mass labour organisations!
Over the last few years the left has publicised workers’ demands and organised support for them. Yet there have been big problems. We have seen two distinct approaches regarding the form working class organisation should take. Some advocate the need to unite around the most basic of demands in trade union-type bodies independent of political organisation. Others argue that a struggle within such a united front between reformist and revolutionary currents over strategy and tactics will be inevitable and the revolutionaries will win over the majority of the working because of the superiority of their arguments.
Then there are those who emphasise the need for a different form of organisation altogether: underground cells of class-conscious workers capable of mobilising the most radical sections of the class. Of course, it is possible to combine both options, but proponents of both strategies imply that the two paths are mutually exclusive. Those calling for a workers’ united front label advocates of cells ‘sectarian ultra-leftists’, while the latter allege that those who want to work for the creation of mass, union-type bodies are succumbing to reformism and syndicalism.
While recent attempts amongst sections of the left to discuss these issues should be welcomed, it has to be said that the working class and the left have a long way to go before the ‘tsunami’ of workers’ protests becomes a class-conscious nationwide movement capable of overthrowing the religious state and the capitalist order it upholds.
Yassamine Mather looks at the politics, hypocrisy and dangers of Ahmadinejad’s nuclear programme:
There seems to be no end to the confrontation between western governments and Iran’s Islamic regime over the nuclear issue.
In the latest phase of the continuing saga, on February 23, a day after the announcement by the head of Iran’s nuclear programme that the country will build two new uranium enrichment facilities, Iran wrote to the International Atomic Energy Agency claiming that it is ready to hand over the bulk of its stockpile in a simultaneous exchange for fuel rods for its research reactor, adding that the exchange must take place on Iranian soil. This falls short of the demands by the so-called ‘five plus one’ (United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany). They had demanded that Iran’s enriched uranium is first processed and then converted into fuel rods in Russia and France, returning the enriched fuel rods to Iran within a year.
Of course there are clear reasons why both sides need the confrontation to continue. For the US it is a question of asserting its authority in the Middle East and reducing Iran’s own political influence in the region – an influence which, ironically, has been considerably strengthened by the establishment of the Shia occupation government in Iraq and the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Barack Obama will not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations for the same reasons that George W Bush did not do so: partly because such a raid could not hope to stop the Iranian nuclear programme for more than a few months, and partly because Iran threatens retaliation against Israel and US troops, via its allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon, not to mention the fact that such an attack might lead to a rise in the price of oil.
For the Iranian government, besieged by protesters in all its major cities, the continued threat of war and the imposition of further sanctions is a godsend. It can use sanctions as an excuse for the disastrous economic situation, for further attacks on workers’ wages and for accusing all its opponents of being agents of foreign powers and increasing repression against the opposition as part of ‘measures to strengthen national defence’ in its war against US and UK.
The latest IAEA report, published on February 19, was the first to be produced under the new IAEA director, general Yukiya Amano, who replaced former chief Mohamed ElBaradei last year. The report’s tone and its conclusion differ considerably from those produced under ElBaradei.
Last week’s document implies the agency suspects Tehran might already be trying to develop a nuclear warhead and has begun enriching uranium to higher levels, theoretically bringing it closer to what is required for an atomic bomb. In addition, a worrying section of the report states: “On February 14 2010, Iran, in the presence of agency inspectors, moved approximately 1,950 kg of low enriched UF6 [uranium hexafluoride is a chemical compound consisting of one atom of uranium combined with six atoms of fluorine] from FEP [fuel enrichment plant] to the PFEP [pilot fuel enrichment plant] feed station. The agency inspectors sealed the cylinder containing the material to the feed station.”
If it is true that Iran has moved 94% of its enriched uranium from underground, one could argue that this is a deliberate provocation added to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s order for uranium to be enriched to 20%. Such a provocation would aim to encourage Israeli military attacks in a desperate attempt to cling to power. Clearly Israel and more recently Saudi Arabia do not seem to share US reservations about such military action. Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak is in the US this week for ‘ talks on halting Iran’s nuclear drive’, prompting this headline in the Washington Post: “Prepare for war with Iran – in case Israel strikes”. Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has also renewed his call for the ‘international community’ to impose an oil embargo on Iran, if necessary without UN security council approval.
When Israeli leaders further inflame the hysteria over Iran’s nuclear industry they are without doubt being two-faced. Israel refuses to sign up to the nuclear proliferation treaty (NPT) and therefore is not obliged to report on its own arsenal of nuclear weapons or allow the inspection of its nuclear facilities. Most analysts agree that it has up to 400 nuclear warheads. Israel refuses to confirm or deny this. With that in mind, on September 18 2009, IAEA agreed a resolution which “expresses concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities, and calls upon Israel to accede to the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards …”
That is why attempts by the US and the European Union to stop Iran obtaining nuclear technology are hypocritical. IAEA’s protocols which are supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation are a one way street. Countries which possess sufficient nuclear weaponry to destroy the world several times over (and are continuing to add to their arsenals) are laying down the law to others – or some of them. The US and its EU allies have for decades refused to even admit that Israel has nuclear weapons.
Ironically Iran’s current status as the regional ‘threat’ is itself a direct consequence of the US-UK invasion of Iraq and the coming to power of a Shia, pro-Iran government in Baghdad. The recent pronouncements by the US and Israeli governments regarding Iran’s nuclear programme are more to do with Iran’s influence in the region, its close relations with the Maleki government in Iraq and the consequences of such influence in the forthcoming ‘elections’ in that country. That is why anti-war activists must condemn constant threats of military action against Iran and oppose sanctions.
However, two wrongs don’t make a right and just because the US is opposed to Iran’s nuclear policy, the left inside and outside Iran cannot take an opportunist position of defending nuclear proliferation in Iran while opposing it in the rest of the world. In embarking on an unprecedented programme of privatisation, accompanied by systematic non-payment of workers’ wages, including in the state sector, Iran’s rulers have constantly blamed financial difficulties. Many in Iran are questioning the wisdom of spending astronomic sums purchasing nuclear technology (often on the black market) by a regime that claims to be so short of funds.
Any support by the anti-war movement for the current rulers in Iran will be in direct opposition to the views of ordinary Iranians who are victims of the repressive policies of this regime, and to millions of Iranian workers who are victims of a corrupt Islamic government’s privatisation policies. We must show our solidarity by supporting the majority of Iran’s population, its workers, and dispossessed – against international capital, against the warmongers, but also against the repressive Islamist regime.
Yassamine Mather reports on the February 11 Revolution Day celebrations
Last week’s official celebrations of the February 1979 uprising that brought down the shah’s regime in Iran stood in total contrast to the events of 31 years ago.
The Islamic state’s lengthy preparations for the anniversary of the revolution included the arrest of hundreds of political activists, hanging two political prisoners (for “waging war on god”), and blocking internet and satellite communications. In addition, the government brought busloads of bassij paramilitaries and people from the provinces to boost the number of its supporters – it considers the majority of the 14 million inhabitants of Tehran to be opponents.
The 48-hour internet and satellite blackout was so comprehensive that the regime succeeded in stopping its own international press and media communications. On the morning of February 11 connections to Iran’s state news agency and Press TV were lost. Foreign press and media reporters found themselves confined to a platform next to where president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was speaking. Neighbouring streets and squares were barred to them. The bassij blocked all routes to Azadi Square by 9am and dispersed large crowds of oppositionists who had gathered at Ghadessiyeh Square and other intersections, preventing them reaching the official celebration.
From the speakers’ podium, surrounded by bassij and revolutionary guards, many of them dressed in military uniform, Ahmadinejad produced yet another fantastic claim. In the two days since his instruction to Iran’s nuclear industry to step up centrifuge-based uranium enrichment from 3% to 20%, this had already been achieved! Nuclear scientists are unanimous that such a feat is impossible.
Huge flags surrounded the Azadi Square podium and the official demonstration was dominated by military figures – typical of the kind of state-organised shows dictators such as the shah have always staged. The crude display of military power, together with the severe repression in the run-up to the anniversary, had nothing to do with the revolution it was supposed to commemorate.
In fact the events of February 11 2010 were the exact opposite of February 10-11 1979, when the masses took to the streets and attacked the repressive forces of the regime, when prison doors were broken down by the crowds and political prisoners released, when army garrisons were ransacked and the crowds took weapons to their homes and workplaces, when the central offices of Savak (the shah’s secret police) were occupied by the Fedayeen, and when airforce cadets turned their weapons against their superiors, paving the way for a popular uprising by siding with the revolution.
The show put on by our tinpot religious dictators was an insult to the memory of that uprising. Yet despite all the efforts and the mobilisation that had preceded the official demonstration, despite the fact that the confused and at times conciliatory messages of ‘reformist’ leaders had disarmed sections of the green movement, the regime could only muster 50,000 supporters. Meanwhile tens of thousands in Tehran and other cities took part in opposition protests – even in the streets close to Azadi Square despite the presence of large numbers of bassij. The protests were so loud that, according to Tehran residents, the state broadcast of Ahmadinejad’s speech had to be halted and instead TV stations showed the flags and crowds to the accompaniment of stirring music. Fearing that the bassij might not be able to control the protesters gathering in neighbouring squares, the government decided to start its extravagant ceremony early and then cut it short. So, despite only beginning at 10am, it had finished by 11.30.
Over the last few months there has been a lot of official nostalgia about the1979 revolution and ironically there are undoubtedly political parallels with the current situation – not least the fact that, just like Ahmadinejad and ‘supreme leader’ Ali Khamenei today, in February 79 ayatollah Khomeini was not on the side of the revolution. In the words of Mehdi Bazargan (Khomeini’s first prime minister), “they wanted rain and they got floods” (in other words, they wanted a smooth transfer of power, with the repressive, bureaucratic and executive organs of the royalist state left intact).
Yet the events of February 10-11 1979 shattered those hopes. No wonder the first official call by Khomeini, on the day the Islamic republic came into existence, was for people to hand over seized weapons to the army and police, for ‘order’ and for an end to strikes and demonstrations. From the very beginning religious clerics in Iran were an obstacle to revolution and for the last 31 years all factions of the Islamic Republic, including the ‘reformists’, have done their utmost to negate what was achieved with the bringing down of the shah’s regime.
Looking back at the events of 1979, in many ways it is amazing to think that a rather weak, confused and divided left managed to accomplish so much in such a short time. But for many Iranians of a different generation the current struggles are indeed the continuation of the same process – and many of them are determined to continue this struggle, however long it takes.
Of course, if the anniversary of the revolution was not a good day for the government, the ‘reformist’ leaders of the green movement too had little to celebrate. Fearful of growing radicalisation, as witnessed by the Ashura protests in December, they spent most of January in both open and secret negotiations with the office of the supreme leader searching for a compromise. Even though by early February it was clear that no deal was on the cards, they continued to issue confusing statements about how to approach the official celebrations.
Both Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Moussavi implied that participation in the demonstration (official or otherwise) was important as a show of ‘national unity’. They condemned any attack on the bassij and other militia and repeated their declarations of allegiance to the Islamic Republic. Many of their supporters joined the official protests wearing no identifying colours and were therefore counted by the regime as supporters.
As always, the main problem with our ‘reformists’ is that by remaining loyal to the ‘supreme leader’, by condemning the popular slogan, ‘Down with the Islamic regime’, they fail to understand the mood of those who have taken to the streets in protest. If for a while they were lagging behind the protests, today they no longer even understand the movement they claim to lead. That movement is adamant in its call for an end to the current religious state, an end to the rule of the vali faghih (Khamenei, whose ‘guardianship of the nation’ is supposed to represent god on earth) – the repeated shouts of ‘Death to the dictator’ are directed at the so-called ‘supreme leader’ himself.
The February 11 protests marked a setback for Moussavi and Karroubi – not just in terms of their politics, but also in their choice of tactics. First of all, it is foolhardy to organise demonstrations to coincide with the official calendar of events, as it allows the regime to plan repression well in advance. Secondly, it was absurd to call on people to join the regime’s demonstrations and, thirdly, opposition to a repressive dictatorship cannot simply rely on demonstrations. The state has unleashed its most brutal forces against street protesters, and we need to consider strikes and other acts of civil disobedience too.
A lot has been written by Persian bloggers about the ‘lack of charisma’ of Moussavi and Karroubi. However, the truth is their main problem is not personality, but dithering. This has cost them dear at a time when opposition to the regime in its entirety is growing, and the left can only benefit from this.
The anniversary of the revolution reminded Iranians of the slogans of the February 1979 uprising. The principal demands of the revolution were for freedom, independence and social justice (the ‘Islamic republic’ was a post-revolutionary constitutional formula imposed by the clergy). Thirty-one years later, no-one, not even the majority of Khomeini’s own supporters, who currently form the green leadership, claim there is any democracy in the militia-based monster of a state they helped to create.
Iran’s independence from foreign powers is also debatable. US hegemony might be in global decline, but in Iran, following America’s defeat in February 1979 and the subsequent US humiliation of the embassy hostage-taking in 1980, the last two and a half decades have seen a revival of US influence. As discussed in detail at the February 13 Hands Off the People of Iran day school in Manchester (see opposite), we can even see US influence during the Iran-Iraq war (Irangate and the purchase of US arms via Israel). In the late 1980s US policies of neoliberalism and the market economy dominated Iran’s financial and political scene and since 2001 the Iranian state has supported US military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the issue of social justice, even though the previous regime’s downfall had a lot to do with class inequality, the Islamic version of capitalism has brought about much harsher conditions for the working class and the poor. The Islamic state’s own statistics show a constant growth in the gap between rich and poor. The impoverishment of the middle classes, the abject poverty of the working class, the destitution and hunger of the shantytown-dwellers – these are all reasons why the current protests continue in urban areas.
In the midst of all this internal conflict, Iranians face the continued threat of war and sanctions. On February 15 Hillary Clinton declared: “Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship.” Yet there is nothing new in the power and role of the revolutionary guards in Iran. Ever since 1979 they have been the single most important pillar of the religious state, involved in every aspect of political and military power. What is new is their involvement in capitalist ventures, empowered by the relentless privatisation plans driven by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
In recent years capitalists in Iran and elsewhere have complained about the revolutionary guards’ accumulation of vast fortunes through the acquisition of privatised capital – precisely the pattern seen in eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Those in power, often with direct connections to military and security forces, are in a position to purchase the newly privatised industries. That is the case with many US allies in the region, yet we have not heard the state department commenting about ‘creeping military dictatorships’ in those countries.
No doubt, as repression increases, Iranians’ hatred of the bassij and revolutionary guards will increase and they will respond to these forces as they did in the protests of late December and last week. However, they do not need the crocodile tears of the US administration – indeed interventions like those of Clinton and condemnations of the repression coming from the US and European countries tend to damage the protest movement inside Iran. After all, Iranians are well aware of the kind of ‘democratic havens’ created under US military occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the last thing they want for their own country is regime change US-style.
It is difficult to predict how the opposition movement will develop, but those of us who have argued that the current protests have economic as well as political causes are in no doubt that we will witness many more street demonstrations, strikes and other forms of civil disobedience. The state is clearly gearing up for another round of repression and there is no sign that those arrested in the last few weeks will be released. Death sentences have been passed on a number of political prisoners, some of them arrested prior to the elections of June 2009 (some have been found guilty of the crime of participating in protests held while they were in prison!).
Even before the new wave of sanctions hits the country, the economic situation has worsened. Thousands of workers are about to lose their job following the bankruptcy declaration of the electricity and power authority last week. Hundreds of car workers – the elite of the Iranian working class – are being sacked every week. On the other hand, the involvement of the working class in the political arena has increased to such an extent that even the BBC Persian service admits we are witnessing a “qualitative change” in workers’ protests.
Four workers’ organisations – the Syndicate of Vahed Bus Workers, the Haft Tapeh sugar cane grouping, the Electricity and Metal Workers Council in Kermanshah, and the Independent Free Union – have published a joint statement declaring their support for the mass protests and specifying what they call the minimum demands of the working class. These include an end to executions, freedom of the press and media, the right to set up workers’ organisations, job security, an end to temporary ‘white contracts’, equality in terms of pay and conditions for women workers, abolition of all misogynist legislation, the declaration of May 1 as a public holiday with the right of workers to demonstrate and gather freely on that day, the expulsion of religious workers’ organisations, which act as spies, from workplaces …
Meanwhile, Tehran’s bus workers have issued a call for civil disobedience: “Starting March 6, we the workers of the Vahed company, will wage acts of civil disobedience … to protest the against the holding of Mansoor Osanloo in prison. We appeal to the Iranian people and to the democratic green movement to join us by creating a deliberate traffic jam in all directions leading to Valiasr Square.”
Workers involved in setting up nationwide councils have issued a radical political statement regarding what they see as priority demands Iranian workers ought to raise at this stage. Emphasising the need to address the long-term political interests of the working class, they also call for unity based around immediate economic and political demands.
As the struggles in Iran enter a new stage, where the weakness of the ‘reformist’ leaders is causing despair amongst sections of the youth, and at a time when the US, Israel and now Saudi Arabia are issuing threats of direct military action and sanctions, the need for international solidarity is stronger than ever before.
December 27 was the bloodiest and most violent convulsion in Iran since the June elections. Millions of ordinary Iranians came out onto the streets to use the Ashura ceremonies and mourning as a focal point of opposition protests. In every part of Iran security forces backed up by Basij militia and the revolutionary guard (Pasdaran) resorted to ever intensifying violence as swarms of protestors over-ran state-repressive forces. It is unclear how many have been killed and arrested at this time, the regime say that only 4 have been killed, whilst student websites and news feeds from Iran put the number around 15. ‘Reformist’ leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s nephew is among the dead. The official reason for these deaths have been accidents and murder by ‘uknown assailants’. The regime has admitted to arresting over 300 protestors yesterday, this number will undoubtedly be much greater.
Clashes took place in Shiraz, Isfahan, Ardebil, Arababad, Mashhad. Whilst Marshal Law was declared in Najaf-Abad, at least four have been killed in the city of Tabriz and the house of recently deceased Ayatollah Montazeri was the scene of heavy fighting in Qom.
Protests began in the morning around 10 am with heavy security presence on major streets, squares and transport links. In Tehran the supreme leader’s residence was surrounded by massed ranks of Pasdaran and police. Throughout the day chants against Khamanei, such as ‘this month is a month of blood!- Khamanei will be toppled’. A clear indication of how far the protest movement has come since June, not only is the regime fearful of a re-run of the election, but are now considerably worried that a revolution is underway. In Tehran clashes erupted at many religious sites as soon as people started to gather for the planned opposition protests. The fighting was intense, with security forces taking several defeats as demonstrators burnt police vehicles, stations, Basij posts and erected barricades. In a couple of instances police and Basij were arrested and detained by the people and three police stations in Tehran were briefly occupied by protestors.. Demonstrators also attacked the Saderat Bank in central Tehran, setting it on fire.
As the day wore on the security forces began to crack, the first division of the special forces refused orders to shoot protestors. There are many pictures and videos that show police retreating or being beaten back by protestors (some are in this report). There is also unconfirmed statements from sections of the army declaring that they will not be used to put down popular unrest. During the evening clashes erupted outside the IRIB headquarters with security forces firing tear gas and bullets into the crowds who responded with rocks and burning barricades. Later on there was fighting in and around Hospitals in central Tehran.
Following the protests several aides to opposition leaders have been arrested whilst injured protestors have been interviewed, beaten and arrested whilst in hospital, the many injured have had to endure interrogation with painful injuries. In response to this it has been reported that medical staff have been patching people up instead of admitting them to the already overcrowded wards. In many parts of Tehran residents opened their doors to the injured and exhausted demonstrators.
The Ashura protests saw a qualitative change in the protests, the people of Iran attacked and won street battles in Tehran, attacked a set fire to police stations and security forces vehicles, demonstrators arrested and detained many riot police and Basij throughout the day. Possibly more importantly the regime has undermined its own religious credibility by making martyrs on Ashura day. Neither side of the regime can now back down, and through this split the mass movement is breaking down the Islamic Republic. Many calls have come not just for the end of Khamanei’s rule, or Ahmadinejad’s government but for the end of the Islamic Republic itself. On the streets protestors have begun chanting ‘Independence, freedom, Iranian Republic’, a slogan which has been condemned by ‘reformist’ leader Mousavi as too radical. The Ashura protests have further underlined that the Islamic Republic is facing the greatest existential threat since its inception and the Iraq-Iran war.
The 56th anniversary of a murder of a student by the Shah’s security forces during Vice-president Nixon’s visit in 1953 may prove to be the last held under the heel of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Possibly millions of students, youth and workers took to the streets in protests against the regime and the barbaric repression since the rigged June elections. Though hard to confirm, today’s protests could be the biggest since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Protests have taken place in Tehran, Isfahan, Mashhad, Arak, Karaj, Orumieh, Kerman, Rasht, Shiraz, Ahvaz, Kermanshah and Hamedan and there have been reports of soldiers protesting at Qom Airbase. Protestors carried Iranian flags that omitted the Allah sign showing that the movement is moving beyond the slogans of the June protests.
In preparation for these demonstrations the regime formed lines of police, Basij and Pasdaran around the universities, squares and monuments in the major cities. The government also attempted to limit internet access with up-to 50% of attempts to connect failing, however, the regime failed to stop the flood of information that is now on hundreds of blogs, twitter and news sites. The mobile phone network was also shut down in central Tehran and limited in other parts of the city. At one point the Basij were scene frantically searching computer rooms at Tehran Polytechnic University in an attempt to stop pictures and videos coming out. Protestors managed to organise the protests and relay information of road blocks etc through the internet and land lines in defiance of the government. Once again the Iranian youth has shown the world that the state cannot keep a lid on protests and unrest.
On the streets the state repressive forces backed up by militia assaulted and arrested protestors but were met with courage and defiance.
At Hamedan University two students were thrown from the second floor by Basij scum, reports indicate that both students have sustained severe injuries. There were also heavy clashes between students and security forces here. At the hospitals in Tehran police with dogs prevented injured protestors from entering, arrested and attacking people who looked like protestors. At Amir Kabir University students were savagely beaten by security forces, where a prominent student leader; Majid Tavakoli was arrested. At the Medical College in Tehran Basij thugs attempted to break up a demonstration beating several students, there were reports of some badly injured protestors at this demonstration. At the Polytechnic University students clashed with the police and managed to repel them for a time shouting “Marg Bar Khamanei” (Down with Khamanei!) as the focus of popular anger shifts from Ahmadinejad and onto the Supreme Leader and the entire Islamic Republic. At Razi University in Kermanshah militia and police had a massive presence but failed to stop the student demonstration. At Sanati University in Isfahan in Kermanshah student protests were attacked by security forces. Professors at Beheshti University joined with the 2,000 strong protest to scenes of massive cheering and chants of ‘Death to the Dictator’. In Kurdistan students burned images of Khomanei and Khamanei in the University, they were also protesting the murder of socialist fighter Ehsan Fattahian who was executed on the 11th November. There were protests and clashes at Azad Shahrkord University, Elm o Sanat University, Sharif University, Azad University of Mashhad, Azad University of Najafabad, Sanati University in Isfahan, Hormozgan University, University of Zanjan, Yasooj University and others. School students have also taken part in the demonstrations, at a high school for girls in Tehran they gathered and chanted slogans, the video is below.
There was heavy fighting across Tehran with students turning the tide against security forces and militia at times. Basij who were carrying Hezbollah flags were attacked and thrown out of Khaje-Nasir University by brave students. Outside Tehran University, the streets approaching Enghelab Square and Valiasr Street saw shots fired by security forces, it is not clear whether they were warning shots or fired into the crowd, some reports claim that some students have been shot. There were reports of security forces refusing to attack students and at times taking water from students who were calling for them to join the protests. It also seems that around Enghelab Square Basij abandoned their positions and vehicles which were swiftly used to form burning barricades by the youth. It has been reported that riot police attacked Basij who were attacking demonstrators. If this wavering from security forces and demonstrations from soldiers are confirmed then this could undermine the regimes confidence in its ability to suppress the protests and may possibly signal an acceleration of the regimes collapse.
Proving that the protests go far beyond the student movement, elderly women dodged bullets and tear gas to bring water, sandwhiches and first aid to the student demonstrators. Some were attacked by security forces, one women was beat savagely by Basij thugs. Below is the video of her after the attack:
Where fighting was taking place residents rushed to aid the students and young workers and many have formed voluntary medical groups, helping the injured into nearby homes and distributing water to crowds. Many workers joined the demonstrations after finishing work swelling the numbers in central Tehran and other cities.
Many students posting on social networking sites Twitter and Facebook have been asking where are the reformists? The mass movement has kept the colour of Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s presidential campaign yet it seems he has abandoned the movement he helped to stir up. As students chanted across Tehran “Mousavi is an excuse, the entire regime is the target” the reformists will have been made acutely aware that the movement is far beyond their control now.
Protests have continued on into the evening with sporadic clashes between protestors and police. It is unclear how many have been arrested today, though we expect it to be in the hundreds. The workers movement internationally must get serious in organising solidarity and demanding the immediate release of all of those who are in prison and secret detention sites. An analysis of today’s events and a wider report will be posted shortly.
Iranian demonstrations have given a real boost to working class opponents of the regime, writes Yassamine Mather
Every year November 4, the anniversary of the 1979 take-over of the US embassy in Tehran, is marked in Iran with a state-organised demonstration outside the building that used to house the American ambassador and his staff. On that date 30 years ago militant Islamic students stormed the embassy and took 71 hostages. Nineteen were released within weeks, but the remaining 52 were held for 444 days.
The ceremony commemorating the 30th anniversary of the ‘US hostage crisis’ was no different from recent years: a lacklustre ritual addressed by an insignificant minister. However, no-one in Iran will ever forget November 4 2009. It was the day when illegal demonstrations in at least six separate locations in Tehran and 20 cities and university campuses throughout the country overshadowed the state-organised event. As the national broadcasting service was showing live pictures of the gathering outside the former US embassy, shouts of “Death to the dictator” from protesters on neighbouring streets and squares were so loud that it was difficult to hear the minister’s speech. In Tehran the six locations were Enghelab Square, Ferdowsi, Haft Tir, Enghelab Square, Vali Asr and Vanak Square.
Revolutionary guards had issued stern warnings that they would not tolerate any protest demonstrations, and the night before dozens of political activists were arrested. On the morning of November 4 itself, government offices closed their doors at around 10am to stop employees leaving their workplace to join the protests. The ministry of the interior deployed special units of anti-riot police, many on motorbikes, as well as the religious bassij militia, to block main roads, intimidate potential demonstrators and attack any gathering. Yet despite all these measure, by all accounts – including admissions in the pro-Ahmadinejad press – tens of thousands of Iranians joined the protests against the regime.
Highly significant was the absence of any slogans regarding the rigged elections. Four months and 22 days after the June 2009 presidential poll, demonstrators in Iran have clearly moved on. Even the BBC Persian Service, that staunch defender of the ‘green movement’, had to admit in its broadcasts and analyses what most of the left has been saying for some time: as a result of the impasse within the factions of the Islamic regime the protests are no longer about the results of the presidential elections. Protesters are now challenging the very existence of that regime. ‘Reformist’ leaders are tailing the masses.1
The advice of their ‘leaders’ – most of whom, with the exception of presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, did not even dare show their face at the demonstrations – was totally ignored. Fellow ‘reformist’ candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi had spent the previous 10 days warning everyone against “radical” slogans that would only “benefit the enemy”. Yet demonstrators did the exact opposite.
Even the bourgeois media had to admit that the radicalisation of the demonstrations has marked a new phase in the life of the opposition. The main slogans that dominated the day were directed at the supreme leader himself: “Our guardian is a murderer [the supreme leader’s official religious title is ‘guardian of the nation’]. His rule is null and void” (Vali ma ghateleh velayatesh bateleh), plus the usual “Death to Khamenei, death to the Islamic republic”.
The crowds were also at odds with Moussavi over the nuclear issue. In late October he and Karroubi met to discuss the recent US-EU offer to Iran, and made it clear that they considered Ahmadinejad’s response to be a sell-out. Moussavi was quoted by his own website Kalameh as saying: “If the promises given are realised then the hard work of thousands of scientists would be ruined.” Yet for the first time in many years, it looked like the nationalist defenders of a nuclear Iran had no supporters amongst the protesters, whose slogans were very clear: “We don’t want reactors, we don’t want the atomic bomb.”
A week earlier, Moussavi, after a lot of dithering, had called on his supporters to back the November 4 demonstrations, yet on the day he failed to show up at any of the protests. His supporters claimed he was prevented from leaving a cultural centre by the security forces, but witnesses deny this. For all his faults, Karroubi, the 70-year-old cleric, showed more courage. He was prepared to join the demonstrations, even though one of his bodyguards was badly injured and ended up in hospital.
In another qualitative development angry demonstrators tore down posters of Khamenei and trampled all over them in what were unprecedented scenes. The man who is supposed to be god’s representative on earth (for Shia Muslims) was called a murderer and his image defiled by demonstrators wiping their feet on his posters.
Most of all, though, November 4 will be remembered as the day Iranians realised their strength and found the courage to stand up to the regime’s supporters and security forces. A number of bloggers have remarked on how government supporters leaving the official gathering hid memorabilia and photos of the supreme leader that had been dished out at that event when they saw the huge number of protesters in neighbouring streets.
There were many reports and films of the bassij and militia attacking protesters, especially women. However, there were also many incidents where demonstrators confronted those forces and actually got the better of them. In some incidents old women defended young protesters and shamed the security forces into retreating.
Some protesters have also taken up a new chant: “Obama, Obama – either you’re with them or you’re with us.” On the face of it, this does not sound like the most radical of slogans. However, this is a country obsessed with conspiracy theories regarding foreign interference and it was the first time since 1979 that Iranians have directed a slogan at the leader of the hegemon capitalist power in the face of such conspiracy theories. It should be noted that since Irangate2 no-one in Iran takes slogans like “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” shouted at official demonstrations seriously.
A number of foreign reporters were detained, most of whom have now been released, together with an Iranian journalist working for Agence France Presse. The stupid leaders of the regime had thought that by making such arrests they would stop the world hearing about the protests, but the reality is that now Iran has millions of reporters, with their text messages, emails and video footage captured on mobile phones. Perhaps the regime will consider banning all electronic equipment in their desperation to stop the ‘wrong’ news spreading.
The demonstrations have given a real boost to working class opponents of the regime. For the first time in many years they are finding allies in their struggle against the Islamic government. Sections of the left, including Rahe Kargar, have been talking of setting up neighbourhood resistance committees and clearly, given the vicious attacks by security forces on the growing opposition, such committees are necessary. For the first time in many years Iranians are discussing the need for the masses to be armed to confront the state security forces, while maintaining their opposition to ‘militarist’ tactics.
But the regime will not give up easily. More than 200 people were arrested in Tehran and the provinces on or around November 4, while a number of labour activists from the Haft Tapeh sugar cane company have been sent to prison for organising strikes. There are unconfirmed reports that despite many efforts to save the life of Kurdish leader Ehsan Fattahian, he was executed on November 11 in Sanandaj Central Prison. Ehsan’s 10-year prison sentence for membership of an illegal Kurdish organisation was recently changed to execution for no apparent reason.
Hundreds of protesters remain in prison and we must do all we can to support and defend them. Let us step up our solidarity with the working class and democratic opposition.