Tag Archives: Hands off the people of Iran

John McDonnell: honorary president of HOPI now shadow chancellor

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

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

 

 

Ideas to empower the anti-war movement

Binyamin Netanyhu and Barack Obama: war threats

Michael Copestake reports on HOPI’s successful weekend school

“The only thing that is certain is uncertainty,” said Labour MP John McDonnell in his talk at the April 21-22 weekend school organised by the Hands Off the People of Iran at the University of London Union.

Given the negotiations between the five members of the United Nations security council plus Germany and Iran that have just completed in Istanbul and are due to resume next month in May in Baghdad (of all the places to talk peace in the Middle East, could there be a more ironic one?) and the decline in the number of those mobilised on demonstrations and marches against war, the truth of this statement should be well noted by all. The continued threat of direct military action against Iran combined with factors such as the US electoral cycle constitute a heady and unpredictable brew.

The weekend school was part of the continued efforts of Hopi to reorientate the left against both the imperialist war drive and the sickening anti-working class regime of the Iranian state itself. Aiming to provide an analysis of the forces driving to war and the general condition of the Iranian state and society, Hopi brought together a range of speakers, including Iranian activists and exiles, National Union of Journalists president Donnacha DeLong, as well as comrade McDonnell himself.

Irrationality

The speaker for the first session on the Saturday was CPGB’s Mike Macnair, who sought to explain what he judged to be the increasingly irrational military adventures of the United States and its imperialist allies. These tend to end in social chaos, as in Iraq, rather than the imposition of some pax Americana, and comrade Macnair linked them to three distinctive cyclical tendencies within capitalism.

The first of these is the business cycle, which in its upswing phase imbues a sense of optimism and belief in progress, while a period of downturn or stagnation provokes attempts, including through war, to distract attention from the ensuing crises of capitalist legitimacy.

The second cycle is much longer-lasting and relates to the rise and decline of the hegemonic capitalist state itself. Giving examples of this process from history, comrade Macnair referred to the Netherlands, the British empire and now, in the present day, the United States itself. Here the qualities which create the success of the new pretender in stealing the crown from the previous declining hegemon breed their own failure over time. These take the form of the loss of previously world-beating industrial production, which provokes the use of brute military force to maintain ‘top dog’ status – irrational adventurism in order to maintain credibility and deter potential successors.

Lastly there is the general decline of capitalism itself, said the comrade. This expresses itself in the fact that United States intervention has not stimulated the significant economic development of capitalism in the states where it has intruded that was seen in the case of previous imperial powers. Taking patterns of immigration as a measuring stick, comrade Macnair noted that previous empires led to an exodus of the population of conquering powers to the new colonies, whereas today the reverse is true – people from the oppressed countries are driven to seek a better life in the core countries.

It is the failure of much of the left to understand these factors that leads it down the dead end of calling for the bourgeoisie, in essence, to act more rationally: it should desist from starting wars and spend the money on the welfare state or whatever. But that fails to grasp the wider – perfectly rational from the point of view of imperialism – imperatives that drive the seemingly crazy waves of destruction.

This interpretation proved controversial for some in the debate that followed, with speakers questioning the category of ‘irrationality’ and suggesting it was lacking in explanatory power. Others pointed out that the war on Iran has been a long time coming, with sanctions going back over 30 years, when capitalism was, presumably, still more ‘rational’. The connection between the business cycle and general political ideology was questioned by one speaker, as was the phenomena of a ‘cyclical hegemon’, while another comrade wondered exactly why China might not be a legitimate rival to the US for this position. During the following exchanges comrade Macnair offered a robust defence of his thesis and expanded on many of its elements in relation to the points being made.

Iran working class

Iranian trade unionist and former political prisoner of the Iranian regime, Majid Tamjidi, gave an illuminating and hard-headed assessment of the plight of the Iranian working class, caught as it is in the vice of imperialist sanctions and neoliberal Islamic despotism.

What came through in comrade Tamjidi’s talk was the nightmarish coincidence of the needs of the US and Iranian states, which serves to push both further down the road towards military conflict. The bluster and bravado with which the Iranian regime responds to sanctions and threats of war feed US portrayals of Iran as intransigent and in need of a swift and harsh remedy. The missing element in the narratives of both the imperialist and Iranian governments is the masses themselves, yet they are being crushed under the weight of both sanctions and the neoliberal policies of the theocratic state, resulting in 60% of Iranians living below the poverty line, 12 million on insecure ‘instant dismissal’ temporary work contracts, and at least 30,000 deaths per annum in workplace accidents.

This focus on the desperate economic situation of Iran and the Iranian working class was picked up in a session on the second day on the political economy of Iran, addressed by Mohamed Shalgouni of the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers in Iran and Hopi chair Yassamine Mather.

The audience was straining to hear the words of comrade Shalgouni, not just because he was so quietly spoken, but because of the great interest in the things he had to say. He provided a compelling dissection of the role of the regime in the economy of Iran, of which 70% is directly or indirectly controlled by the state and its related bodies, increasingly under the auspices of utterly phoney privatisations that give ownership of companies to state and military officials technically at ‘arm’s length’ from the government in a kind of pocket-bursting, oligarchic give-away, last seen on a such a scale in the crash privatisations undertaken in the collapsing Soviet Union. That there can be such a bonanza for state bureaucrats and heavies is a legacy of the revolution, which resulted in the expropriation of the holdings of the royal family and a series of nationalisations. This self-interested gangsterism by the state, taken with three decades of increasingly severe sanctions, has led to the ruin of much of what remained of the Iranian economy and, with the possible closure of French car plants under the pressure of the United States, the situation grows more and more dire.

Indeed, the size of the ‘black economy’, much of which is controlled by state, army and militia bureaucrats, and includes imports, currency and the trade in alcohol, is estimated at being worth $60 billion a year: about the same as Iran’s official imports. As comrade Yassamine Mather elaborated, domestic industry, including the production of agricultural staples at a price affordable to the Iranian proletariat, has been deliberately run down by the mercantilist, middle-man interests of the state and bourgeoisie, as it is easier to extort money from the masses when all of the country’s needs are met by imports controlled by the collective state gangster rather than from domestic production.

Aware of the basket-case economy and a desperate, volatile society it has created, the Iranian state, whilst it slashes subsidy and welfare for everyone else, continues to subsidise around five million supposedly grateful economic dependants who can potentially act as extra-military brownshirts against Iranian workers when society inevitably produces explosive protests.

Speakers from the floor wondered how the supposedly deeply religious government of the clerics justified its privatisations, though the answer was provided quickly that this was done with great ease – and was typical of theologians throughout history, whenever god gets in the way of fistfuls of hot cash. Other questions ranged from the role of the military in exploiting the economy and the possibility of conflict between them and the clerical wing of the state.

Solidarity

More focused on the immediate situation facing the wider world and its working class movement was the talk given by comrade Moshé Machover, co-founder of Israeli socialist party Matzpen. This was also the case with the panel discussion led by left-Labour stalwart John McDonnell MP, who humorously referred to himself and Jeremy Corbyn as the “parliamentary wing” of Hopi, Sarah McDonald, a runner in the previous weekend’s Vienna marathon in aid of Workers Fund Iran, and NUJ president Donnacha DeLong.

Comrade Machover focused on the relationship between Israel and Iran. He believed that the recent Istanbul negotiations with Iran had produced a vaguely positive outcome despite Hillary Clinton’s hawkish rhetoric. Attempting to identify exactly why Israel was so pro-war, the comrade identified two main factors. The first was that an Iran with nuclear arms, or nuclear potential within the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, reduces the relative power of Israel in the region and its ability to be the watchdog of the United States.

The second reason was that the Israeli state is seeking a pretext in order to engage in a further ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, thus solving the so-called ‘demographic problem’ of the growing Arab population of Israel. The acceptance by the Israeli military in its own documents and in the words of some of its own leading figures that the ‘Iranian bomb’ is not a serious threat disproves the notion that this issue is about Iran’s nuclear capability. It is more about provoking a situation of such turmoil that the mass expulsion of Palestinians could be more conveniently undertaken.

The panel discussion made up the final session of the weekend, with comrade De Long recounting his experience of the Iranian regime during his time as an Amnesty International worker and gave an example of the power of the social media in spreading cutting criticisms of the regime than can serve as morale boosters and potential incitements to action for ordinary Iranians.

John McDonnell reported that the word in the Westminster village was that, should there be an attack on Iran, it may be around September time, though the Israelis were suffering from an itchy trigger finger and he did not discount them acting alone. Comrade McDonnell emphasised the correctness of Hopi’s line against imperialism, sanctions and the regime itself and that it was essential that these ideas be spread more widely into the labour and trade union movement as a whole. Whether this took the form of meetings with individual trade union general secretaries and MPs, of cultural events and campaigns such as the film screenings in aid of Jafar Panahi, of direct action or of good, old-fashioned marches and demonstrations was not important: what matters is spreading the message.

The comrade also emphasised another part of what Hopi stands for as particularly important: support for working class and progressive forces and for socialism in the Middle East. We absolutely must not, the comrade insisted, ever refrain from stating plainly that the only progressive force in Iran (and elsewhere) capable of combating imperialism and overthrowing the neoliberal clerics is the working class, and that the only way to lasting peace and prosperity in the whole region is through socialism.

Describing her experience of practical solidarity with the Iranian working class was CPGB member Sarah McDonald, fresh back from the Vienna marathon. She, along with others, had raised almost £1,000 for Workers Fund Iran. Comparing the project of transforming the left into a healthy and principled anti-war force to a marathon rather than a sprint, the comrade emphasised how the act of having to ask others for support and sponsorship for the marathon had itself been a very useful form of political activity: it provided the opportunity to explain the aims of Hopi and its stand against any war against the people of Iran.

During the ensuing debate comrade McDonnell was asked what the atmosphere in parliament was like at the moment, given that earlier in the year he had reported that it felt like a rerun of the lead-up to the Iraq war. He replied that the atmosphere had calmed somewhat, but that in the EU Britain remains the most hawkish state. Donnacha DeLong, by this point proudly wearing his cap decorated with anarchist badges, suggested that Hopi might be able to use the Levenson inquiry to expose the collusion between the Murdoch press and the government to bring the Iraq war to bloody fruition.

Others from the floor emphasised that, despite real anti-war sentiment – for example, around the Afghanistan debacle – the conclusion that many had reached from Iraq and the endless ‘numbers are everything’ marches organised by the Stop the War Coalition was that war cannot be stopped. That is why it is so essential to link the struggle against war to a rounded, working class politics and that is what Hopi will continue to do.

Walking for Workers in Iran – Donate Here! Donate Now!

Solidarity
Solidarity

On March 4th five members of the Hands Off the People of Iran Manchester branch will be walking the Bogle, a fifty five mile walk round Manchester. We are walking to raise money for the charity Workers Fund Iran, which was set up in December 2005 with the aim to reduce and relieve poverty amongst Iranian workers (both employed and unemployed) who are victims of the economic policies of the Iranian regime, including mass non-payment of wages. The charity is not aligned to any political organisation. Funds sent to Iran will be distributed amongst the most needy working class families who are facing destitution. We hope the funds will stop families sending their children to the streets as beggars or peddlers and selling their body parts, which is a common practice.

In Iran at the moment, hundreds of thousands of workers are being consigned to poverty by the oppressive Iranian state. Practical solidarity is one of the greatest things we can do for Iranian workers; it helps the revolutionary struggle against the Islamic Republic continue. Give generously!

We are hoping to raise over £300 pounds for the charity. You can donate by going to our Charity Choice page here.
DONATE HERE
DONATE HERE

Hopi Annual General Meeting 2011

HOPI AGM
Lisa Goldman, Chris Strafford and John McDonnell MP

This successful meeting on February 12 2011 agreed to launch the campaign ‘Free Jafar Panahi and all political prisoners in Iran!’

  • For a report (first published in the Weekly Worker) , click here
  • For videos of the event, click here
  • For John McDonnell’s speech which launched the campaign, click here

Find below information on the motions that were passed and who is sitting on our new steering committee.

Continue reading

Free Behzad Bagheri, Bahman Khodadadi and all political prisoners now!

Behzad Bagheri
Free Behzad Bagheri!

As we approach the anniversary of the mass demonstrations that shook the theocratic regime last year. The repressive security apparatus has stepped up their attacks and violence on opposition activists. The regime executed 13 people in Ghezel Hesar prison at the beginning of June in a warning to opposition activists that a repeat of last years uprising will not be tolerated. Dozens more activists and protesters are awaiting execution.

Even before the mass uprisings Hands Off the People of Iran was supporting left-wing student activists who were facing repression, arrest and violence by the security forces. You can see a video of Freedom and Equality Seeking Students members speaking in October 2008 here. The left-wing of the student movement in Iran has been one of the most politically advanced and therefore suffered greatly at the hands of the state repressive forces. At the end of last month Behzad Bagheri, a student at Tehran University and member of Freedom and Equality Seeking Students was arrested. His family have not been able to learn of his condition or charges and there has been no contact between Behzad and his family. He was previously arrested in 2007 with other left wing activists in 2007 for taking part in anti-militarist and ant-regime protests.

Free Mohammad Pourabdollah!
Free Mohammad Pourabdollah!

Earlier on 8th May Bahman Khodadi, another left-wing student was arrested along with other activists in Isfahan. This add to the already huge numbers of political prisoners including such as student leader Mohammad Pourabdollah who has been in prison since February 2008 after being arrested previously in February 2007, he has been kep it solitary confinement suffering torture and constant attacks by the prison authorities. Other political prisoners include the Bus Worker’s union leader Mansoor Osanloo.

The attempt to scare off the mass movement and to undermine the ability of the opposition to organise is being driven towards mass murder and detention. Our movement must call for the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners.

You can help by getting your union branch, your political organisation or yourself and friends to spread the news of the ongoing repression to opposition activists in Iran. You can also help put pressure on the authorities by sending messages of protest calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Iran:

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Prince´s Gate
London SW7 1PT

info@iran-embassy.org.uk

Embassy and the Consulate switchboard: 020 7225 3000

Fax (Embassy): 020 7589 4440

Dreaming is a crime: Jafar Panahi on his detention

Jafar Panahi after release
Jafar Panahi after release

Jafar Panahi says at the moment he has little hope of making another film, all he can do is produce a film in his head but he adds “I will have to make a film, that is my life.” He is eager to thank all those who called for his release, film directors, actors, theatre directors, artists , festival organsiers but also his friends and compatriots.

He says : “I started the hunger strike when one night they took me for questioning and the interrogators asked: ‘what is the name of your film?’ I thought they were referring to the film I was making when they arrested me in my house on the 1st of March. So I replied ‘that film isn’t finished yet so it hasn’t got a name’. They replied no no, we are asking about the film you are making in prison in your cell.'”

“I said: ‘What film?’ These people really thought someone had smuggled a camera and I was making a film in their jail! The truth is once I told a group of fellow prisoners that I have so far made five films and as a joke I added ‘and here I am making a film of myself’. The jail authorities must have heard this and thought that in my tiny cell I was making a film.”

Panahi adds: “All the pressures imposed by these interrogators are due to their imagination, it shows their fear of cinema. Here (in Iran) it is a crime even to think about making a film! Dreaming about a film is a crime.”

(Translation from Farsi by HOPI)

Over one hundred people attend solidarity screening of arrested Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi’s Offside at Soho Theatre.

Comedian Shappi Khorsandi and LRC Leader John McDonnell MP
Comedian Shappi Khorsandi and LRC Leader John McDonnell MP

Over one hundred people attend solidarity screening of arrested Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi’s Offside at Soho Theatre.

May 12 saw a well-attended solidarity solidarity screening of Jafar Panahi’s best known film, jointly organised by Hands Off the People of Iran (Hopi) and the Labour Representation Committee. The event is part of a series of film showings and solidarity events across the country to raise the profile of Jafar Panahi and others incarcerated for political ‘crimes’ in Iran.

Panahi was arrested on March 1 as part of the Iranian state’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement sparked by the rigged presidential elections in June 2009. He has refused bail until all political prisoners of this  movement are freed.

The event opened with Soho Theatre’s artistic director Lisa Goldman providing a moving account of meeting Panahi in Iran. She was followed by John McDonnell MP outlining the significance of the campaign to free Panahi.

“Every movement creates a symbol” he said. “In refusing bail until all other political prisoners are freed, Jafar is taking a courageous stance that we in Hopi wish to applaud and highlight”. He emphasised the importance of Hopi’s core principles – against war or sanctions on Iran; but no support for the theocracy and unequivocal solidarity with genuinely democratic struggles from below against its rule, especially those of the workers’ movement.

Hopi 3 Shappi
Shappi Khorsandi

This was a theme British-Iranian comic Shappi Khorsandi took up in her opening remarks to the audience, explaining that she “loved” Hopi precisely because of this principled stance. Her acutely observed act then interlaced anecdotes drawn from her own background as the daughter of an Iranian activist who had also been persecuted by the Iranian theocracy with observations on the eccentricities of British society from an ‘outsider’.

Panahi’s moving film was a huge hit with the audience; stormy applause followed its closing credits.

Mark Fischer, Hopi national secretary said:

“Tonight was a real success. We are fighting to raise the profile of Jafar Panahi, who in spite of his international prominence as an artist, has been largely ignored by what John McDonnell dubbed in his speech a ‘media blackout’. He – and all political prisoners in Iran – must not be forgotten”.

Panahi’s family sent thanks to the organisers of the event. Hopi has plans for more solidarity events in the near future.

ENDS

Additional Information

Contacts:
Yassamine Mather – 07738 828 540
Mark Fischer – 07950 416 922
Ben Lewis – 07890 437 497

Supporters of Hopi include (for a full list, visit www.hopoi.org/supporters.html):
ASLEF – train drivers union
PCSU – Public and commercial services union
Green Party
Communist Party of Great Britain
Diane Abbott MP – Labour
John McDonnell MP – Labour
Caroline Lucas MP – Green Party
Dr Derek Wall – male principal speaker, Green Party
Bill Bailey – comedian
Haifa Zangana – writer
Ken Loach – film maker
Naomi Klein – author

John Pilger – campaigning journalist
Professor Alan Macfarlane – University of Cambridge
Professor Moshé Machover – King’s College, London
Professor John McIlroy – Keele University
Professor Bridget Fowler – Glasgow University
Professor Christine Cooper – Strathclyde University
Dr Terry Brotherstone – University of Aberdeen UCU
Dr Adam Swift – University of Oxford
Professor Phil Taylor – University of Strathclyde
Professor George Joffe – King’s College, London & University of Cambridge
Peter Jowers – University of the West of England
Professor Guy Julier – Leeds Metropolitan University
Victor Kattan – Research Fellow, British Institute of International & Comparative Law
Dr Gerry Kearns – University of Cambridge
Professor Jeremy Keenan – University of Exeter & University of Bristol
Dr Andrew Cumbers – University of Glasgow
Dr Rolf Czeskleba-Dupont – University of Roskilde
Professor Bill Bowring – Birkbeck College, University of London
Professor Hamid Dabashi – Columbia University
Professor Moataz Fattah – Cairo University

Hopi is a campaign established in 2008 around the central slogans ‘No to imperialist war! No to the theocratic regime!’ As well as British activists, the organisation centrally involves a large number of Iranian exile organisations and individuals who have been forced into exile to avoid arrest and imprisonment.

Manchester solidarity demo against executions in Iran

On May 13th around 30 members of Hands Off the People of Iran along, Iranian students and exiles demonstrated in support of the general strike in Iranian Kurdistan and protest the executions of five political prisoners on May 9th in Evin prison. Those executed were school teacher and trade unionist Farzad Kamangar, Ali Haydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alam-Houli and Mehdi Eslamian. We rallied outside the University of Manchester Students’ Union and the BBC building spreading leaflets and literature on the situation. There were speeches by Iranian refugees who explained the situation in Iran the recent repressive measures in both English and Farsi.

Chris Strafford from HOPI’s national steering committee condemned the executions and the ongoing torture and incarceration of political prisoners within Iran, he also spoke about the negative impact of sanctions and that the key task for socialists in the UK is to oppose sanctions and military threats whilst building solidarity with the truly democratic movements. Afterwards he read out a letter by Farzad Kamangar sent to other prisoners titled ‘Be Strong Comrades’ you can see the videos here and here.

Hands Off the People of Iran demands:

* The immediate end to executions in Iran
* The unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners
* An end to the sanctions regime and imperialist threats

Below are some pictures of the day:

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‘Reformist’ confusion stunts opposition protests

Yassamine Mather reports on the February 11 Revolution Day celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘National unity’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crocodile tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

Theocracy threatens bloodbath as mass movement grows

Iranian workers are on the offensive, reports Chris Strafford

2010 has begun the way 2009 ended in the Islamic Republic of Iran, with millions protesting in cities and towns across the country. But the dangers facing the Iranian people have undoubtedly increased over the last few weeks.

Further sanctions are being put in place, and Obama is holding back Israel for the time being, but has been promising “decisive action” if Iran does not halt all uranium enrichment. One Israeli diplomat was quoted in The Guardian as saying, “Obama has convinced us that it’s worth trying the sanctions, at least for a few months” (January 3). The imperialists seem to be moving towards military aggression this year – Washington has now dismissed the validity of the intelligence estimate which concluded that Iran was no longer trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

They have also been hypocritically talking about repression and democracy in Iran. Yet it was the CIA that put into power and propped up the vicious regime of the shah, under whom similar scenes to what we are seeing on the streets of Iran today were played out again and again. And today the US and Britain support regimes which are equally adept at violent oppression, such as that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

While the alleged threat of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons is played upon, the only actual nuclear power in the region, which happens to have a history of bloody military adventures and aggression, continues to threaten Iran. Israel undertook joint war games with the US in October to test its new ground-to-air missile defence system.

Imperialist warmongering and sanctions have undoubtedly damaged the mass and working class movement in Iran, but despite that at present that movement is very much on the offensive. The funeral of ayatollah Montazeri, who died on December 20, became a focus for the latest opposition protests, with hundreds of thousands attending. A founder of the Islamic Republic, he later became a loyal oppositionist who was horrified by the mass murder that took place under Khomeini, along with the embarrassment of the Iran-Contra affair. His funeral procession and the gatherings in Qom were attacked by state repressive forces, which only fuelled the protests.

Tens of thousands of ordinary Iranians came out onto the streets on Sunday December 27. Clashes took place in Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Ardebil, Arababad and Mashhad. Martial law was declared in Najaf-Abad and at least four were killed in the city of Tabriz. In every part of Iran security forces, backed up by bassij militia and Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran), resorted to violence to put down protests.

In Tehran the supreme leader’s residence was surrounded by massed ranks of Pasdaran and police. Throughout the day chants such as “This month is a month of blood! Khamenei will be toppled!” rang out in the streets. A clear indication of how far the movement has come since the initial protests against the rigging of the June 2009 presidential elections by one wing of the regime against the other.

In Tehran clashes erupted at many religious sites, as people started to gather for the planned opposition protests. The fighting was intense, with security forces being forced to retreat, as demonstrators burnt police vehicles and bassij posts and erected barricades. In a couple of instances police and bassij were captured and detained by demonstrators and three police stations in Tehran were briefly occupied. Demonstrators also attacked the Saderat Bank in central Tehran, setting it on fire.

As the day wore on, the security forces began to crack, with the first division of the special forces refusing orders to shoot protestors. There are many pictures and videos that show police retreating or being beaten back. There are also unconfirmed statements from sections of the army declaring that they will not be used to put down popular unrest.

Over a week on it is still unclear how many were killed – reports range from seven to 15, but it is known that the nephew of ‘reformist’ leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi is among them. The official cause of the deaths that have been admitted varies from ‘accident’ to ‘murder by unknown assailants’. Marxist groups and the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organisation (MKO) have also been blamed, although videos and pictures have been posted online of the bassij firing on demonstrators.

Hundreds have been incarcerated and 300 of those arrested during the recent protests have been moved to section eight of Gohardasht prison under the control of the Revolutionary Guards. Beatings, torture and rape of prisoners is continuing on a daily basis. Ebrahim Raiesi, first undersecretary of the judicature, said that the “rioters” will be prosecuted immediately and that charges range from “causing disorder” to “war against Islam” (which is punishable by death).

On December 30, 500 bassiji and Hezbollah attacked a gathering at the University of Mashhad armed with knives. They injured dozens of students and arrested over 200, possibly killing two. The day after, over 4,000 students and professors staged protests against the attacks and arrests at Ferdowsi and Azad universities, but were laid siege by security forces and militia.

Students, professors and parents have tried to find out information about those arrested and hospitalised. They sent a delegation made up of representatives from the university Islamic Society to meet with officials, but they were themselves arrested. Amongst them is Seyed Sadra Mirada, a relative of Khamenei.

Protestors have taken to chanting “Independence, freedom, Iranian republic” – a slogan that has been condemned by Moussavi as too radical, as the ‘reformists’ go to great lengths to try and impose some sort of control on the mass movement. Other slogans that have been used include “Not the coup government, nor America” and “No colour revolution here!”

The ongoing political crisis in Iran is compounded by the economic crisis caused by the neoliberal polices pursued by consecutive governments, the world economic crisis and sanctions. Inflation is running at over 25% and unemployment has reached 12.5% – nearing 30% for young workers – impoverishing millions of families. Workers in numerous industries have gone months without pay, and on January 4 those at the Mazandaran textile factory downed tools in protest against non-payment of wages and the laying off of workers on temporary contracts.

The economic situation and the political upheaval have fused the demands of the workers’ movement with those of students and the mass movement as a whole. More and more workers are taking part in, sometimes leading, the street protests. This has scared the authorities, who have begun rounding up known left and worker activists across Iran.

The regime aims to scare the movement off the streets with dire threats. On January 2 the Revolutionary Guard released a statement saying: “The devoted bassijis of Greater Tehran will smother all the voices that come out of the throat of the enemies of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic.” This came amongst calls by leading conservative clerics, such as the chair of the Guardian Council, ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, for the execution of leading activists. A motion has been submitted to the Iranian parliament calling for “enemies of the Islamic Republic” to be hanged within five days.

The international workers’ movement must be prepared for a new round of mass murder in Iran. We must support our comrades in any way we can. The majority of the left has indeed come out in support. To its credit the Socialist Workers Party has continued to back the movement, whilst opposing imperialism – something it previously said the anti-war movement could not do. Maybe the SWP will now permit the affiliation of Hands Off the People of Iran to the Stop the War Coalition, now that the SWP itself has taken up a watered down version of Hopi’s principled stance.

However, there remain nominal socialists who defend the mass murder and repression of the regime in Iran. Respect MP George Galloway, Andy Newman (Socialist Unity blog and Respect member) and groups like the Stalinist CPGB-ML have all defended the “mature democracy” of the Islamic Republic (Newman – www.socialistunity.com/?p=5051) and poured scorn on the mass movement as an attempt at some sort of colour revolution. Such claims have clearly been disproved by what is happening on the streets and the slogans taken up by the movement. Newman has been particularly idiotic, opting to ignore the murder of thousands of trade unionists, socialists, feminists and LGBT people under the clerical regime and instead defending the miserly welfare provisions that exist in Iran.

Defenders of the regime see it as anti-imperialist, forgetting that the clerics have made deals with the imperialists before and will no doubt do so again, if they think that will maintain their rule. The Iran-Contra affair and the welcoming of the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are good indications of how consistently the theocratic regime ‘opposes imperialism’. No, the only genuine opponents of imperialism can be found on the streets: democrats, students and most of all the working class. It is these forces to whom we must give our support – in deeds as well as words.

It is essential to maintain a clear position of opposition to any faction of the Islamic Republic and to US-led imperialism. We must begin to strengthen the campaign against sanctions initiated by Hopi – Stop the War Coalition needs to take up this issue in a serious and organised way, so that the anti-war movement can begin to win the argument that sanctions undermine working class struggle through impoverishing the masses. We need to state loud and clear that sanctions are not some soft option, but part of the imperialist war drive.