Tag Archives: internationalism

Quotes: Why we don’t support the Iran Tribunal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The 7 key arguments against the “Iran Tribunal”

1. Payam Akhavan (chair and spokesperson of the tribunal’s steering committee) has links to organisations that have accepted large amounts of money from the US government
2. The tribunal refuses to take a stand against war and sanctions on Iran
3. Mainstream lawyers and politicians like Sir Geoffrey Nice, John Cooper QC and Maurice Copithorne ideologically support the tribunal – why?
4. The pro-war Mujahedeen is closely involved with the tribunal
5. Many organisations and witnesses have withdrawn
6. Critical voices have been silenced
7. Conclusion: The tribunal has become part of the campaign to legitimise war and sanctions to enforce pro-western ‘regime change from above’.

The arguments in more detail:

1.    Payam Akhavan (chair and spokesperson of the tribunal’s steering committee) has links to organisations that have accepted large amounts of money from the US government.

He is leading member of Iran Human Rights Documentation. This has received a large amount of funding from the US government.[i]  Akhavan is also active in Human Rights and Democracy for Iran (also known as the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation).This is financed by a variety of American and European foundations, amongst them the infamous National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED was founded in 1983 by former US president Ronald Reagan to spread his version of “democracy” around the globe

2.    The tribunal refuses to take a stand against war and sanctions on Iran.

Yassamine Mather, chair of Hands Off the People of Iran, has written to the tribunal’s steering committee, requesting that it takes a stand against the threats of war on Iran and the devastating effect that the sanctions are having on the country. She did not even receive a reply.

Organisers of the tribunal subsequently stated that the tribunal is “non-political.” Yassamine Mather has responded that, “without clear opposition to war and sanctions, the tribunal effectively strengthens the hand of all those reactionary forces contemplating a military attack on Iran. The danger of war grows every day. I am a strong opponent of the regime in Tehran – but a war would be disastrous for the forces in Iran who have a real interest in democracy: the workers, women’s groups and social movements in that country.”

In contrast, Payam Akhavan is a keen supporter of sanctions on Iran. For many years, Payam Akhavan has been pushing his sponsors’ agenda for ever harsher sanctions. He is one of the authors of the International report published by the Responsibility to Prevent Coalition, which calls for “a comprehensive set of generic remedies – smart sanctions – to combat the critical mass of threat, including threat-specific remedies for each of the nuclear, incitement, terrorist and rights-violating threats”. This 2010 report was, incidentally, also signed by Tory MP Michael Gove and “Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy”.[ii]

(In an interview with a Canadian newspaper, Akhavan boasts: “After years of lobbying, we succeeded in persuading both the US and EU to adopt targeted sanctions against Iranian officials. Canada is far behind in this regard.”).[iii] On March 8 2012, he attended a meeting of the European Union to present a report he had co-authored that contains the proposal to blacklist not just “individuals”, but “the organisations and government bodies that commit these violations”, which “should also be put under sanction”.[iv]

Sanctions are supposed to destabilise the regime and prepare the ground for ‘regime change from above’. In reality, they impact below: first and foremost ordinary working people are harmed by them. There have been clashes on the streets of Tehran over the price of food – even stallholders at the Grand Bazaar are supporting the demonstrators- most Iranians will tell you that the sanctions are the main reason for their misery. In other words, they help deflect anger away from the theocratic regime. They weaken the only force that can deliver real democracy: the workers’, students’ and women’s organisations, who are today weaker than they have been for many years. Clearly, sanctions are a form of war.

3.    Mainstream lawyers and politicians like Sir Geoffrey Nice, John Cooper QC and Maurice Copithorne ideologically support the tribunal – why?

Sir Geoffrey Nice is a supporter of the Human Rights Commission of the British Conservative Party; John Cooper QC has stood for the Labour Party in elections. Payam Akhavan was voted “young global leader” at the World Economic Forum in 2005. All three are well-known, high-ranking lawyers, who in the name of what they dub “the international community” have over the years confronted many dictators and government heads in international courts (generally when these have turned on their former sponsors in the US, of course).

Between 1995 and 2002, Maurice Copithorne acted as UN human rights rapporteur for Iran. “Some Iranians travelled to meet him in 1995 in order to get him to start an investigation of the 1988 massacre,” according to a member of the Norwegian tribunal support committee (which has since withdrawn). “But they weren’t even allowed to meet him. His aide told them that he would only deal with the current situation in Iran and was not interested in things from the past.” Of course, this was at a time when the US was making efforts to stage a rapprochement with Tehran and to enlist it as an ally in the fight against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. It was in this geo-political context that Copithorne’s 1998 annual human rights report was seen as a political whitewash of the theocracy’s oppression. For example, in that report he opines that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is making progress in the field of human rights”.[v].

Why is Copithorne interested in the massacre now? And why have members of the Conservative Party donated their services for free? After all, this is the same Conservative Party that was in government in 1988 and remained ostentatiously silent as leftists and democrats were systematically culled by the theocracy. This is the same Conservative Party that supports harsh sanctions on Iran and continues to rattle the war drums.

Clearly, all these people are ideologically committed to the trial – which explains why the organisers refuse to come out against war and sanctions. This effectively contradicts the tribunal’s claims that they are “non-political”.

4.    The pro-war Mujahedeen is closely involved with the tribunal

For the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), the overthrow of the regime has always been the key objective and it explicitly supports sanctions and war to achieve it. (In the first Gulf War, it famously sided with Saddam Hussein and supported his attacks on Iran, including active participation in military operations). The Mujahedin’s backing for the Iran Tribunal is actually disputed by the tribunal, yet the involvement of people with close MEK links seems to tell a different story. Hardly surprising: after all, the US government has recently announced that it has removed the Mujahedin from its list of terrorist organisations.Leila Ghalehbani (who is featured in a video on the tribunal’s front page) is the sister of a number of Mujahedin prisoners who were killed in 1988. Iraj Mesdaghi, a survivor of the massacre, describes himself as “a former member” of the organisation. The website of the pro-Mujahedin organisation, Human Rights and Democracy for Iran, has just published a very sympathetic interview with Payam Akhavan, in which he is sympathetically prompted to tell readers how he feels about being “slandered” by the British leftwing paper, Weekly Worker, in its critical coverage of the IT. [vi]

5.    Many organisations and witnesses have withdrawn.

The organisations that have withdrawn their witnesses, support for and cooperation with the tribunal include Rahe Kargar (Komitee Ejraai) and the communist organisation Charikhaye Fadai Khalgh (one of the offshoots of the original Fedayeen). Others, like the Communist Party of Iran, have dropped their support. The Marxist-Leninist Party of Iran (Maoist) has split over the issue, as has the Iranian Left Socialist Alliance in the US and Canada. The most ferocious criticism has come from the tribunal’s Norwegian support committee, which has since dissolved because it felt “duped” by the tribunal organisers.

6.    Critical voices have been silenced.

A number of tribunal witnesses have used their statements to condemn the links of the committee to the NED and publicly stated that they are against war and sanctions on Iran. In two highly critical statements the Norwegian support committee describes how all IT witnesses who arrived in London on June 17 were taken to a briefing session, where they were explicitly asked not to raise any politics during their session. They would not be asked the name of their organisation or their political views, as this was “not a political tribunal”. One witness wanted to challenge the tribunal and at the end of his 30-minute session made an anti-imperialist statement. Outrageously, his whole statement was excluded from the tribunal’s report.

7.    Conclusion: The tribunal has become part of the campaign to legitimise war and sanctions to enforce pro-western ‘regime change from above’.

The tribunal is part of a campaign that includes sanctions and the threat of war: they are designed to destabilise the theocratic regime, so that it can be easily toppled. But such a regime change from above cannot bring democracy, as the most recent examples of Iraq and Afghanistan prove.

Hopi is campaigning for a real tribunal that can investigate the crimes of the Iranian regime – but which at the same time takes an implacable stand against war and sanctions. Democracy in Iran will come from below, from the struggles of its working people themselves; they need solidarity, not the pro-imperialist bleating of Johnny-come-lately ‘democrats’ like Cooper, Nice and Copithorne. 

Against the status quo: An Interview with Iranian trade unionist Homayoun Pourzad

Against the status quo
Against the status quo

Despite unrelenting state repression, there have been rumblings throughout the 2000s of renewed labor organizing inside the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). One result of this upsurge in labor organizing was the May 2005 re-founding of the Syndicate of Workers of the United Bus Company of Tehran and Suburbs, a union that has a long history, albeit one that was interrupted by the 1979 “Revolution,” after which the union was repressed. The unions’ leader, Mansour Osanloo, was severely beaten and thrown in the Rajaei prison where he remains in a state of deteriorating health. Osanloo is an Amnesty International “prisoner of conscience.”

Another important result of the new labor organizing has been the emergence of the Independent Haft Tapeh Sugar Workers Union which launched an aggressive 42-day strike in June 2008 over wage-theft and deteriorating working conditions. In 2009, the regime imprisoned five union leaders in an attempt to smash the union for “acting against national security through the formation of a syndicate outside the law.”

Since the dramatic street demonstrations that so captured the international media’s attention beginning on June 2009, the direction of events inside the IRI has sparked considerable debate as well as confusion. The continuing rivalry between various power factions within the government lends itself to no easy predictions, while little is known of the internal dynamics of the Green Movement responsible for the demonstrations. The fate of an already vulnerable organized labor movement in this volatile environment is likewise unclear. Whatever the outcome of the current power struggles, the future of Iranian organized labor is now an international issue. Its right to organize is in desperate need of support.

Following the U.S. Labor Against the War Conference, and in order to better grasp this situation, Platypus Review Assistant Editor Ian Morrison sat down with Homayoun Pourzad, a representative from the Network of Iranian Labor Unions, to discuss the current crisis and the effects of “anti-imperial” ideologies on understanding the character of the IRI. Morrison conducted this interview, which has been edited for publication, on December 3, 2009.

Ian Morrison: Before we get into the current situation, could you explain the organization of which you are a part, the Network of Iranian Labor Unions (NILU)?

Homayoun Pourzad: The idea for the NILU first arose about three years ago. Some of us already had union experience dating from before the 1979 Revolution. It upset us that, with millions of workers, there were no Iranian unions independent of the state, but only the semi-official Islamic Workers’ Councils. What gave NILU its initial impetus was the Tehran bus drivers’ actions led by Mansour Osanloo and his friends.

There was a nucleus of independent labor organizations in various trades, but the government always moved quickly to stifle that independence. Iran’s Labor Ministry and the Ministry of Intelligence have standing directives to crush independent workers’ activities, regardless of which faction is running the country. The government is very brutal in its attempts to destroy the nascent labor movement.

On the surface it looks like not much is happening with union labor activity in Iran, but even in the face of government oppression, many workers are secretly engaged in organizing underground unions. These efforts have not yet peaked. Also, organizers have to walk a fine line, since once you get too big you are more easily detected. So labor organizers have to be careful how they recruit, and how many workers meet together at once. But the nucleus of the movement is in place and once the situation allows for it there will be a huge mushrooming of independent labor unions. The NILU operates in two different trade associations. We are also doing our best to start publication of a national labor press. The task is to make labor news available and to begin to provide some political analysis.

IM: Could you explain the political crisis in Iran that has unfolded since the election and how it is affecting your efforts to organize labor?

HP: First of all, anybody who tells you that they have a full picture is lying, because the situation is very crazy.

There are at least five dozen, semi-autonomous power centers, factions, and groups vying for influence. Not even [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali] Khamenei knows for certain what will happen tomorrow. But this does not mean there is complete anarchy. Speaking generally, there are at present four major centers of power, or rather, three plus one. The first three are Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Revolutionary Guards, while the fourth, the nascent popular movement, is of an altogether different character though is still remains somewhat amorphous. It is still finding its own voice, needs, and strengths — but it continues to evolve. For the foreseeable future, the first three powers will more or less effectively determine how things will turn out. This said, Khamenei is already weakened. This is for two reasons: He apparently has health problems and, more importantly, he has had made huge political blunders. In another country, people would probably say,

“He’s only human.” But, in Iran, he is not only human. He is somewhere between human and saint, at least for his supporters and propagandists. But saints are not supposed to make blunders, at least not so many in so short a time!

IM: What is the relationship between the NILU and the nascent popular movement?

HP: There is no organic relationship between them, just as there are no organic relationships to speak of between the different elements of this movement. Mousavi does not even have an organic relationship with his own followers because of the pervasive power of repression. So, the nascent labor movement’s relationship with the popular movement is tenuous by both necessity and because of the way things have evolved. That said, we fully support their goals and will participate in all demonstrations. We even support Mousavi himself because he has remained steadfast at least up until now in defending the people. So long as he continues to do this, he deserves our support. Of course, if he changes tack, that is a different story. We think this is a truly democratic movement such as we have not seen in Iran before, including during the Revolution. Every group involved with the Iranian Revolution, without exception, believed only in monopolizing power; democracy was nobody’s concern. But now there is a very mature movement in that sense, particularly among the young people, and the fact that it has withstood so much violence in the last few months shows that it is deeply rooted. Many people were worried at first that the protests would fizzle out, but the continuance of the actions up to this day vindicate our support. The Iranian government has really gone overboard with stopping the protestors — it has been very bloody and violent — and still they have been unable to squash the protests entirely.

IM: But do you think Mousavi stands for workers’ rights at all? He seems to have a checkered political history.

HP: We do not know what his stance is. He seems generally favorable to workers’ rights, but, at any rate, our platform is not identical to his. The movement supporting Mousavi is a broad national-democratic front; we are all working with a sort of minimum program. The movement has formulated no long-term plans, and it is now in danger of being decimated. We do not have any illusions that anyone in the leadership of the Green Movement is 100 percent on board with workers’ rights, but this is not the time to discuss that. Right now, we are fighting a dangerously reactionary dictatorship. Things will become clearer as time goes on, but right now we do not seek to magnify the differences among those opposing the dictatorship.

IM: There are some who see Ahmadinejad, because he is so anti-American, as anti-imperialist, and thus as leftist. What is your response to such characterizations?

HP: Well, the problem with this argument is that it assumes everyone in the world who rants and raves against the U.S. or Israel is somehow progressive. Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Sada’am Hussein, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — these men are all more truly anti-American than any leftist. But the rhetoric of Ahmadinejad and his ilk is all demagoguery, as far as we are concerned. Either it is in the service of power politics, or else it is just a fig leaf to hide the disgrace of their own politics, which in all these cases is profoundly anti-Left and anti-working class.

IM: Still, in the peace movement here some people are uncomfortable taking a stand against Ahmadinejad or policies in Iran because they think that this is tantamount to supporting American policy.

HP: Well, I can tell you how every democratically minded person in Iran would reply: Ahmadinejad is essentially creating the ideal situation for foreign intervention. He is deliberately provocative. For instance, there is no need to use the kind of language he uses against Israel; it is genuinely odious, his frequent comments about the Holocaust and the like. But he speaks like this for a reason: He is a right-wing extremist seeking to rally his people through fear and hatred. That is what he is doing. To us it is actually incomprehensible how anyone could support Ahmadinejad just because he rants and raves about America. It really makes no sense to us. When I tell people in Iran that there are some progressive groups in America that support Ahmadinejad, they think I am pulling their leg. It makes no sense to them. But I know that this goes on and, to the extent it does, it gives the Left a bad name.

IM: What is your take on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is very popular on the Left in America? He is interviewed in progressive organs such as The Nation, for instance. He appears on the mass media as leading a front against America together with Ahmadinejad.

HP: We really do not know. We are really confused as to why Chavez is Ahmadinejad’s buddy. It makes no sense to us. It has made it almost impossible in Iran to defend his Bolívarian Revolution. When you have people being beaten or tortured, and so on, and then tell them, “Well, there is this government that supports your government, but these guys are good guys,” it is difficult to fathom, really. We hope that Chavez changes his policy, because when there is a change of government in Iran it will be accompanied by a total rupture with everyone who supported Ahmadinejad.

IM: What in your view is fueling the current crisis?

HP: Well, let me go back to a point I was making earlier. Ayatollah Khamenei, because of his errors, has seen his status diminished. He no longer has about him the mystique that once so terrified and intimidated people. Then you have Ahmadinejad, who has turned out to be a rogue element for the regime, one that is perhaps doing more damage than good for them right now. Then there are the Revolutionary Guards, who have the bulk of the real power in Iran. They have made a power grab all over the country, so that now they control the economy, the political situation, and the Parliament. Still, Khamenei, Ahmedinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards are in an ongoing struggle for power. They unite only in the face of common enemies, whether internal or foreign, and not always then.

The current crisis in Iran is best understood as a set of concurrent crises: First, there is the legitimacy crisis, which I discussed just now with reference to Khamenei; second, is the political crisis where the various factions within Iranian “politics” cannot agree on anything; third, is the economic crisis which the ruling class is utterly incapable of addressing. The country was in recession even before the election. What will bring the economic crisis to a head is Ahmadinejad’s plan to cut all the subsidies, which are quite big, between 15 to 20 percent of the GDP (though nobody really knows for sure the exact amount, due to the lack of transparency in the administration). The supposed populist Ahmadinejad intends to cut the subsidies for transportation, utilities, energy, and even for staples such as rice and wheat. After this happens, there will be spiraling inflation, of course. The cut in subsidies for energy and utilities will force factories currently operating at a loss and/or below capacity to engage in massive layoffs. That is when we will see a number of labor actions. There may also be short-lived and violent urban uprisings. But rather than these riot-like urban uprisings, we are focusing on organizing labor to bring the country to a halt if need be.

Iranian labor is in a really awful situation, arguably the worst since its inception a century or so ago. With millions of workers in the formal sector, we still lack official, legal independent unions. On the other hand, the situation is ideal for organizing. The labor force is ready for independent assertion, though they need the kind of support that only comes from dedicated organizers.

Iran’s spiraling political and economic crisis coincides with another crisis that is only just beginning, the international crisis regarding the nuclear problem. Diplomatic talks are failing, as was inevitable. We feel that the regime is trying to build a bomb, but probably not testing it for a while. There is a clear danger that this might lead to an air attack or to some other form of major military intervention, which would divert attention from the internal situation. Indeed, as I said above, this is what this regime is hoping for. It would be a monumental mistake if there were to be an attack against Iran, since the nuclear program can only truly be stopped if the popular movement becomes more substantial and is able to change the government, or at least force changes in its policies.

IM: So your sense is that, with the nuclear program, Ahmadinejad is actually trying to provoke aggression?

HP: Indeed. We condemn any kind of foreign intervention, but we also condemn Ahmadinejad’s provocative policies, in part because they are geared toward provoking just such an intervention. Anyway, we do not think the military route is the way to go with this, because it is not likely to succeed even in halting the nuclear program. We think the labor movement in Iran is poised to play a strategic role, even on the international stage, because once the working class organizes itself, it really can cripple the regime, especially given the current economic crisis. And, as I say, a major strike wave is looming in Iran.

The situation for Iranian workers right now is dismal. For the last 4 or 5 years the demand for labor has dropped. There is also the mania for imports that Ahmadinejad has encouraged for the last 5 years. The result is that across the country factories are facing shutdowns and bankruptcy. There is also an immigrant Afghan labor force of roughly seven hundred thousand, with whom we sympathize, and whose expulsion from the country we oppose just as we oppose the many forms of coercion and discrimination this government levels against them, but it is a fact that their acceptance of as little as 50 to 60 percent of normal salary exerts downward pressure on everyone’s wages. So, if you look at all these factors, you see that things are really awful for Iranian workers; their bargaining position is weak. In the current environment, once you go on strike or you have some sort of shutdown, they can easily fire you and find someone else.

The labor status quo has also changed. Few people are aware of this, but Iran once had very progressive labor laws. In the aftermath of the Revolution, it was very hard to legally fire workers. But now, 65 or 70 percent of the labor force consists in temporary contract workers who lack most basic rights. They can now get fired and be deprived of their benefits quite easily. This is what makes the situation so very ripe for organizing, and makes organization necessary, despite the regime’s brutal repression. They do not allow for any labor organizations independent of the state, and they are ruthless. The least that could happen to an exposed labor organizer is that he gets fired and thrown in solitary confinement for several months.

This year is critical for the Iranian labor movement in many ways, and we need support of all kinds. Iran is in great danger. The government acts like an occupying army. It treats the country’s ethnic minorities — Kurds, Baluchis, and Arabs — as though they were foreign nationals. The resulting national disintegration grows worse day by day. At the same time, extremist groups are finding it increasingly easy to operate. Among the Sunni minority, fundamentalism is growing.

There is nothing to be said in favor of this regime, after the election. Before the election, there were perhaps some disparate elements within the government working toward reform, but this has ceased to be the case. All that remains is extremely retrograde: the government is ruining the country’s culture and economy, while sowing discord among the people. They are turning minorities against each other and against the rest of the country — Shia against Sunni, not to mention men against women — all because the Islamic Republic state wants to retain and expand power. When these methods fail, they turn to brutal and undisguised repression.

IM: I am wondering about the comparison of what is happening today to the 1979 Revolution. There were mass mobilizations then, with various leftist groups and parties involved, but when the Shah fell, it left a power vacuum that was filled by reactionaries. First, is the comparison salient? Second, is there the possibility of there emerging a power vacuum, and what can the labor organizers do in this situation?

HP: You are wondering if, because there is not a clearly formulated platform for the movement, that it may go awry, and extremist groups come to power? Of course, this is a possibility. But I think there are reasons to be optimistic. Thirty years of this sort of psychotic, pseudo-radical extremism has really taught everybody a lesson. You have to be either extremely naive, or a direct beneficiary of the system not to see that the country has been harmed. In general, the young people are more mature than their parents’ generation. The youth do not have the same romanticization of revolutionary violence, which was one of the reasons things got out of hand in 1979. It was not only the clerics that were extremists, practically every group endorsed revolutionary violence of one kind or another; it is just that in their mind their violence was justified, whereas everyone else’s violence was “reactionary.” The new generation does not hold those beliefs. Iranian society has a strong extremist strand, but I believe that is changing now. There is a belief in tolerance, in wanting to avoid force, and in trying to understand one’s political opponents rather than just crushing them. This is something extremely important and not altogether common in much of today’s Middle East.

Let me also say, along these lines, that Islam has never really undergone a Reformation. But we are seeing signs of this happening in the IRI today. It is happening very quietly in the seminaries. It could only happen where Islamists have actually come to power and shown beyond all doubt the inadequacy or even the bankruptcy of their ideas and their ideologies. This forces healthy elements within the clergy — not those who are out there to enrich themselves, but those who are religious because they are utopian-minded — to go back to their books, to the Koran, to revise the old ideas. Such clerics are not in the majority yet they are sizable and they are spread throughout the clerical hierarchy from grand Ayatollahs to the lowest clergy. Earlier, the idea of reforming the medieval interpretations of the Koran and Islam came mainly from Muslim intellectuals, but now a considerable part of the religious hierarchy is coming to the same conclusion. Some are operating in very dangerous circumstances. There is a special court of clergy, similar to the Inquisition courts, that want to silence them. But such ideas cannot be silenced so easily.

If there is a military attack on Iran, it will set back the progress of many years. This is exactly what the regime wants, at this point, which is why Ahmadinejad is so provocative. He wants the Israelis to launch an air strike. The West cannot simply bomb a few installations and think that it will all be done. The current regime would strive to escalate that fight. Even if Obama verbally condemns an intervention in Iran by another nation, Iran will use it as a pretext to expand the fight and things will rapidly get out of hand. It would provide him with a new recruitment pool, which is drying up, because right now the best and the brightest of Iran do not go into the Revolutionary Guards. Their recruits today are opportunists or those who simply need the money. The people are turning against the regime. What could change all this is if we came under attack, if, as they would claim, “Islam is threatened.” The regime might then successfully stir up nationalistic sentiments, perhaps not so much in Tehran, but that is only 14 million or so. Most of the country lives in smaller towns, and the only news they get comes from state broadcasts. These people could become recruits, leading to all sorts of awful things. In the meantime, at the very least we will continue to see street fighting, riots, and so on. The youth will only endure torture and being kicked out of schools up to a point. As it is, the regime opens fire on peaceful street demonstrations — I have seen it myself. The government’s hope is that some of the young people will arm themselves and fight back. That is one of the dangers here.

IM: You are here for the U.S. Labor Against the War Conference. What sort of relationships do you hope to build with other labor unions in America and around the world?

HP: First, I want to communicate to them what is happening in my country, that there is a labor movement and that it needs support. More specifically, even though there is no guarantee that this will change what this government is doing, we hope with the help of our American friends to put together an international committee of labor unions in defense of Iranian labor rights. The Iranian state does not even pretend to care what the international community or the general public thinks of them. Still, they are weaker now than ever before, and the regime is concerned about what might come after a military action or major sanctions. So, for the first time it looks like they are going to be sensitive to what trade unions, especially those against intervention, have to say, or what they will do. In fact, Ahmadinejad’s government has been sending envoys to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and courting it assiduously. They go out of their way to placate them, whereas ten years ago they did not give a damn what the ILO thought. So there may now be some scope to pressure the regime to release imprisoned labor organizers. In addition to that, we would like to inform the American labor movement and the public at large of the dangers of any kind of military intervention.

IM: Do you think there are any possibilities for a party of labor in Iran? That is a problem all over the world. Different labor organizations meet up, and there are groups that believe in various trade union rights, and they release statements to that effect. But there is no political body that consistently stands up for working people.

HP: I may have sounded too much of an alarmist, for I emphasized the dangers. But the opportunities are also great. Like I said, you have almost eight million workers in need of organizing. They will even be able to organize themselves, if the situation changes. The Green movement holds promise, I think. It came totally out of the blue; no one expected it, from the Ministry of Intelligence to the opposition and the foreign governments. This means there are elements that could coalesce into a progressive and democratic labor party. It should not be forgotten that Iran not only has a huge working class, but also a tradition of left-wing activity going back some 100 years. The working class in Iran, moreover, is not semi-proletarian as it was during the Iranian Revolution. This generation of workers has advanced political skills and a mature political worldview. You are no longer dealing with peasants just come to the city. Iran is fairly industrialized in many ways and these workers have their own subcultures. We have a good situation in that sense. So yes, there is a good possibility that we will have a strong labor party. The conditions are there, but none of this will materialize without a strong, deeply rooted labor movement.

So what needs to be done? We must put across to other sectors of society what the working class stands for. The protest movement is now primarily middle class. That is its primary weakness. But once labor strikes get underway in the next few months, we hope they will change how the Green movement sees the workers, themselves, and their moment. It is our job as labor activists to put across a genuine working class platform and to familiarize the country with working class demands.

We cannot, as some Left groups do, start condemning the Green Movement just because it lacks a strong Left component. It is the Left’s job to influence the movement and to see that its demands and wishes are incorporated-not just with respect to Mousavi, but to the movement as a whole.

We cannot start condemning the movement even if and when it starts lurching to the right, because, again, it is the Left’s job to be there side by side with it. By being there, I mean, for example, our press must also reflect their concerns and their needs. We should not be supercilious, but rather have a healthy dialogue with all the different contingents within it. Above all, we should not speak from above in a condescending manner. Only when we are side by side with the people who are fighting on the streets will they listen to us. In the last six or seven months, there has been an incredible growth of interest in the Left. This has been very spontaneous, among young people. If anything, the old generation mishandled their political situation and turned young people off by looking down on them.

If the labor movement gets its act together, it could really help the present popular movement, which, on its own, lacks the muscle to stand up to the regime. With the workers on board there can be economic strikes. In 1979, for months there were people yelling and clamoring in the streets, but it was only when the oil workers entered the picture that the Western governments told the Shah to leave.

Because of all this and because of the fact that the labor movement, by its nature, tries to avoid extremism or revolutionary romanticism, there is reason to hope. The labor movement’s pragmatism allows it to stave off the dangers of extremism from both Left and right. The two main labor unions, the sugar cane workers and bus drivers, are resolute in protesting against the status quo and advancing their political and social agenda. They are supported by over 90 percent of the work force. If you talk to bus drivers in Tehran they are all upset about what has happened recently, but you never hear anything disparaging about the union leadership and what they have done. This shows the kind of work organizers have done. This was not a spur-of-the-moment thing. They organized over several years and held many sessions with intellectuals who taught them constitutional rights, economics, and so on. But, of course, there have been mistakes, as is to be expected. But those mistakes were necessary in some ways, so that the rest of the labor unions will not repeat them.

 

Source: Platypus Review

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.

Hopi activists at Azar 16 demo outside Iranian Embassy in London

hopibannerhigh On Monday December 7, Hands Off the People of Iran activists attended a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy to mark Students Day. It was particularly important for those outside Iran to express our solidarity because this year’s commemorations in that country have highlighted a deepening radicalisation of the student movement, with demonstrations spreading beyond the campus and onto the streets.

It was encouraging that around 350 protesters attended what was a rather impressively prepared event in London. There were marquees, generators, a powerful PA system, a green laser lighting up the Iranian embassy and green glow sticks available on demand. But the demonstration reflected much of the confusion prevalent amongst Iranian exiles (the Hopi contingent was the only non-Iranian group that took part). This was to be expected, since it was organised by the Iranian Green Movement in London. Official chants and slogans were limited to opposing Ahmadinejad and Khomeini, rather than the Islamic Republic as a whole.

The statement on the website of the Iranian Green Movement (www.londongreen.org/en/index.php) includes some supportable demands on freeing all political prisoners, freedom of the press and calling for public trials for those agents of the Islamic Republic who have committed crimes and tortured detainees (does that include leading ‘reformists’ like Mir-Hossein Moussavi?).

However, it has absolutely nothing to say on sanctions or war on Iran. Worse, it sows illusions in what the green movement claims is the “neutral” United Nations and its platitudinous Human Rights Declarations – calling for the UN to “oversee” a “free election” in Iran. Like the sham elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, presumably …

In order to challenge this perspective, a smaller ‘red’ demonstration had been organised right next to the green tents and marquees. It was vociferous and energetic in calling for opposition to both imperialism and the whole Islamic regime, as opposed to this or that individual mullah, but – presumably by mutual consent – they were physically separated from the main demonstration by steel barriers and a row of police. The noise of the ‘green’ PA often drowned out the more principled politics.

Hopi activists distributed a leaflet entitled ‘Solidarity with the Iranian people, not Moussavi’. As well as outlining our internationalist, working class perspectives for Iran, the leaflet also carried a translation of the Iran Khodro car workers’ statement on the political crisis in the country.

Given our clear message, we were expecting to be met with a rather frosty reception. However, comrades found that there was very little difference in the way we were received by the ‘green’ and ‘red’ parts of the demonstration. Almost everybody appreciated the solidarity we have shown and many wanted further information about Hopi. We leafleted and sold papers to both sections in an atmosphere which contrasted favourably to other occasions. Following the rigged presidential elections, our comrades’ red flags were torn away by Moussavi supporters in Manchester, for example.

In view of this it was a little puzzling that the anti-regime left did not attempt to interact more directly with the ‘greens’ and those who hold illusions in Moussavi. Rather than mounting what was in effect a counter-demonstration, and being unable to make themselves heard, the ‘red’ section could have demanded speaking rights from the official organisers. The comrades were correct to retain their independent voice, however. We should not blur lines of principle. We should not encourage support for the theocrat Moussavi or seek to prettify his sordid record.

One Iranian comrade pointed out that many of those now in the ‘green’ part of the demonstration were actually familiar faces from past leftwing actions – people who consider it their duty as ‘Marxists’ to uncritically tail Moussavi.

As the mass movement inside Iran grows in confidence and the regime’s days appear increasingly numbered, the tasks of the solidarity movement remain the same: a fight on two fronts – against imperialist designs on Iran, and for unequivocal support for the Iranian masses. This necessitates taking a clear stand both against imperialist sanctions and war and against Moussavi, a butcher of the Iranian left. Both have the blood of workers, the left, democrats and secularists on their hands.

Ben Lewis

On Monday December 7, Hands Off the People of Iran activists attended a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy to mark Students Day. It was particularly important for those outside Iran to express our solidarity because this year’s commemorations in that country have highlighted a deepening radicalisation of the student movement, with demonstrations spreading beyond the campus and onto the streets.

It was encouraging that around 350 protesters attended what was a rather impressively prepared event in London. There were marquees, generators, a powerful PA system, a green laser lighting up the Iranian embassy and green glow sticks available on demand. But the demonstration reflected much of the confusion prevalent amongst Iranian exiles (the Hopi contingent was the only non-Iranian group that took part). This was to be expected, since it was organised by the Iranian Green Movement in London. Official chants and slogans were limited to opposing Ahmadinejad and Khomeini, rather than the Islamic Republic as a whole.

The statement on the website of the Iranian Green Movement (www.londongreen.org/en/index.php) includes some supportable demands on freeing all political prisoners, freedom of the press and calling for public trials for those agents of the Islamic Republic who have committed crimes and tortured detainees (does that include leading ‘reformists’ like Mir-Hossein Moussavi?).

However, it has absolutely nothing to say on sanctions or war on Iran. Worse, it sows illusions in what the green movement claims is the “neutral” United Nations and its platitudinous Human Rights Declarations – calling for the UN to “oversee” a “free election” in Iran. Like the sham elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, presumably …

In order to challenge this perspective, a smaller ‘red’ demonstration had been organised right next to the green tents and marquees. It was vociferous and energetic in calling for opposition to both imperialism and the whole Islamic regime, as opposed to this or that individual mullah, but – presumably by mutual consent – they were physically separated from the main demonstration by steel barriers and a row of police. The noise of the ‘green’ PA often drowned out the more principled politics.

Hopi activists distributed a leaflet entitled ‘Solidarity with the Iranian people, not Moussavi’. As well as outlining our internationalist, working class perspectives for Iran, the leaflet also carried a translation of the Iran Khodro car workers’ statement on the political crisis in the country.

Given our clear message, we were expecting to be met with a rather frosty reception. However, comrades found that there was very little difference in the way we were received by the ‘green’ and ‘red’ parts of the demonstration. Almost everybody appreciated the solidarity we have shown and many wanted further information about Hopi. We leafleted and sold papers to both sections in an atmosphere which contrasted favourably to other occasions. Following the rigged presidential elections, our comrades’ red flags were torn away by Moussavi supporters in Manchester, for example.

In view of this it was a little puzzling that the anti-regime left did not attempt to interact more directly with the ‘greens’ and those who hold illusions in Moussavi. Rather than mounting what was in effect a counter-demonstration, and being unable to make themselves heard, the ‘red’ section could have demanded speaking rights from the official organisers. The comrades were correct to retain their independent voice, however. We should not blur lines of principle. We should not encourage support for the theocrat Moussavi or seek to prettify his sordid record.

One Iranian comrade pointed out that many of those now in the ‘green’ part of the demonstration were actually familiar faces from past leftwing actions – people who consider it their duty as ‘Marxists’ to uncritically tail Moussavi.

As the mass movement inside Iran grows in confidence and the regime’s days appear increasingly numbered, the tasks of the solidarity movement remain the same: a fight on two fronts – against imperialist designs on Iran, and for unequivocal support for the Iranian masses. This necessitates taking a clear stand both against imperialist sanctions and war and against Moussavi, a butcher of the Iranian left. Both have the blood of workers, the left, democrats and secularists on their hands.

15 Arrests at demonstration after the closure of paper Etemad Melli (National Trust)

Mehdi Karoubis Etemad-e Melli paper closed down
Mehdi Karoubi's Etemad-e Melli paper closed down

The regime has “temporarily” shut down the newspaper of defeated reformist candidate Mehdi Karoubi. has Etemad-e Melli was closed down under the orders of the prosecutor’s office and no edition appeared on the streets today (August17). It has been alleged that the paper was about to release a statement calling for further defiance.

In response to this youths and supporters of Mehdi Karoubi fought running battles with security forces at 7 Tir Square and other places in Tehran near the headquarters of the newspaper. Whilst Karoubi has been thrown into a struggle against security forces and the judiciary he and the reformist faction offer nothing but more bloodshed for the people of Iran. For the movement to be successful the people of Iran must topple both the conservative and the reformist wings of the Islamic Republic.

At this time we are aware that at least 15 people have been arrested. Below is video footage of today’s demonstrations.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzW6E4oN_uA&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

Show trials and apologetics

Protests still going strong

Just as Iranian ex-leftwingers in the west call for reconciliation between the two wings of the Islamic regime, the ruling faction clamps down on its rivals. Yassamine Mather reports


The Stalinist show trial of Saturday August 1 – when a number of prominent ‘reformists’ appeared on Iranian state TV to ‘thank their interrogators’ before repenting – was not the first such event in the Islamic republic’s history. Leaders of the ‘official communist’ Tudeh Party were similarly paraded on Iranian TV to denounce their own actions in the 1980s, while in the 1990s we had the trials of ‘rogue’ elements of the ministry of intelligence.

However, this time the Islamic leaders forgot that a precondition for the success of such show trials in terms of imposing fear and submission on the masses is total control of the press and media. What made this particular effort ineffective – indeed a mockery – was that it came at a time when the supporters of supreme leader Ali Khamenei have not yet succeeded in silencing the other factions of the regime, never mind stopping the street protests. So, instead of marking the end of the current crisis, the show trials have given the protestors fresh ammunition.

The paper of the Participation Front (the largest alliance of ‘reformist’ MPs) stated: “The case of the prosecution is such a joke that it is enough to make cooked chicken laugh.” The Participation Front was one of nine major Islamic organisations which ridiculed the prosecution claim that the ‘regime knew of the plot for a velvet revolution’ weeks before the election. Some Tehran reformist papers are asking: in that case why did the Guardian Council allow the ‘reformist’ candidates to stand in the presidential elections? Perhaps the Guardian Council itself should be put on trial!

Former president Mohammad Khatami, candidates Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi and other ‘reformist’ politicians have denounced the trial as “illegal”, yet they do not seem to realise the irony in this criticism. First of all, no-one but the ‘reformists’ within the regime has any illusions about Iran’s legal system (both civil and sharia law). Second, the time to oppose show trials was two decades ago, not when you yourself are a victim of the system and there is no-one left to defend you. It was not just in the 1980s that messrs Khatami, Moussavi, Karroubi, etc kept quiet about similar trials. As late as the 1990s, during Khatami’s own presidency, they did not exactly rebel against the show trials of the intelligence agents who ‘confessed’ to having acted alone in murdering opponents of the regime. Some of the most senior figures implicated in that scandal, a scandal that was hushed up by the Khatami government (‘for the sake of the survival of the Islamic order’) – not least current prosecutor general Saeed Mortazavi – are now in charge of the ‘velvet revolution’ dossier.

For the Iranian left the trial and ‘confessions’ have also been a reminder of the plight of thousands of comrades who probably faced similar physical and psychological torture in the regime’s dungeons in the 1980s, although only a handful of them ever made it onto TV screens – many died anonymously in the regime’s torture chambers. Of course, we do not know if the Iranian government has improved its torture techniques since those times, but some senior ‘reformist’ politicians appear to have broken down much more easily than those thousands of young leftwing prisoners.

Those ‘reformist’ leaders who are still at liberty are not doing any better. Despite facing the threat of arrest and trial themselves, they maintain their allegiance to ‘Iran’s Islamic order’, reaffirming their “commitment to the Islamic regime” (Khatami) and denouncing the slogan promoted by demonstrators, “Freedom, independence, Iranian republic”, as Moussavi did on August 2.

A couple of weeks ago there were signs that negotiations between Khamenei and another former president, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, had made some progress and once more there was the possibility that, as the two factions of the regime buried some of their differences, the mass movement could become a victim of reconciliation amongst senior clerics.

The show trials not only put an end to such illusions, but promised an unprecedented intensification of the internal conflict. But this came too late for the authors of the statement, ‘Truth and reconciliation for Iran’, signed by a number of academics and activists who are notorious apologists of the Iranian regime and published on a number of websites, including that of Monthly Review.1 The statement has one aim: to save the Islamic regime by advocating peaceful coexistence between the two warring factions or, in the words of the statement, “the vital unity of our people against foreign pressures”.

In explaining the background of the conflict with imperialism, the authors state: “… despite Iran’s cooperation in the overthrow of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, the administration of George W Bush labelled the Islamic Republic a member of the ‘axis of evil’.”2 I am not quite sure why Iran’s support for US imperialism in the terrible Afghanistan war should be put forward as an example of the regime’s reasonable and moderate behaviour by anyone who claims to be anti-war.

The statement goes on to praise the wonderful election process, failing to mention that only four candidates loyal to the regime’s factions were allowed to stand or that voting for a president of a regime headed by an unelected ‘supreme religious leader’ is a bit of a joke … But this marvellous ‘democratic election’ is used to legitimise Iran’s nuclear programme.

The statement contains some seriously false claims: “… we have advocated the human rights of individuals and democratic rights for various groups and constituencies in Iran.” I am not sure which universe they think the rest of us reside in, but until the escalation of the conflict between the two factions of the regime many of the authors of the statement were insisting that everything in Iran’s Islamic Republic was great.

According to the defenders of ‘Islamic feminism’ amongst them, Iranian women enjoy complete political and social freedom – which no doubt would have come as a shock to tens of thousands of young women who joined the protests precisely because of their opposition to draconian misogynist regulations imposed by the religious state.

Many of the signatories are associated with Campaign Iran and the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran, which have made a virtue of not advocating “democratic rights” for Iranians, since that would confuse those simple-minded ‘ordinary people’ at a time when Iran is under threat. They insisted that the existence of a women-only fire brigade was proof of gender equality in Iran and the fact that the ‘crime’ of homosexuality is punishable by death is no reason to declare the regime homophobic – after all, liberal Iran has a very high rate of sex-change operations.3 The signatories are mistaken if they think they can rewrite history and portray themselves as defenders of “human rights” in Iran – we will neither forgive nor forget their disgraceful pro-regime apologetics.

Our ex-leftists clearly fail to understand the significance of the street protests: “The votes of a great portion of the Iranian society for both Ahmadinejad and Moussavi show that the best solution is negotiations for reconciliation and creation of a government of national unity from the ranks of principlists and the green movement and reformists.” While even bourgeois liberals and Moussavi supporters admit that the protests have now reached the stage where the green movement has no alternative but to tail the masses and their anti-regime slogans, the signatories’ advice to the ‘reformists’ is to ‘negotiate’ with those who have killed dozens of demonstrators, tortured hundreds and imprisoned thousands, including some of Moussavi’s allies.

When the ‘Truth and reconciliation’ statement tries to look at the causes of the current unrest, it gets things wrong: “However, in the view of a considerable number of Iranians who are discontented and frustrated with the restrictions on civil and political freedoms, there were various irregularities in the elections, including the suspension of reformist newspapers and mobile telephone SMS service on election day. This caused mass public demonstrations in support of nullifying the election.”

In fact both wings of the Islamic republic have made a lot of people “discontented and frustrated” and restricted “civil and political freedoms” since the day the regime came to power. There have been disputed results in at least three previous presidential elections, but what differentiates the current crisis from previous ones is ‘the economy, stupid’. Not only is the global economic crisis being felt far worse in the countries of the periphery, but the effects in Iran are compounded by a government that based its 2008-09 budget on selling oil at $140 a barrel; a government that aimed to privatise 80% of Iran’s industries by 2010, thus creating mass unemployment, a government that printed money while pursuing neoliberal economic policies; a government whose policies resulted in a 25% inflation rate, while the growing gap between rich and poor made a mockery of its populist claims to be helping the common people.

Last week I wrote about the political stance of Stalinists who, by supporting Moussavi, are advocating, as they have done throughout the last decades, a stageist approach to revolution.4 The signatories of the ‘Truth and reconciliation’ statement have taken things a step further: they do not aim for the next ‘stage’ any more, advocating instead the continuation of the religious state with peace and harmony amongst its many factions. The protests might have pushed Khatami, Moussavi and Karroubi to adopt slightly more radical positions, but they certainly have failed to influence our conciliators.

The demonstrators in Tehran shout “Death to the dictator”, but the Casmii and Campaign Iran educators condemn “extremist elements who used the opportunity to create chaos and engaged in the destruction of public property”. Anyone who knows anything about events since the election is aware that it is the state and its oppressive forces that have used violence against ordinary people. How dare these renegades condemn the victims of that violence for resisting this brutal regime?

What is truly disgusting about the statement are the pleas addressed not only to leaders of the Islamic reformist movement in Iran (to make peace with the conservatives), but also their requests to Barack Obama and other western leaders to be more accommodating to the Iranian regime. As if imperialist threats and sanctions have anything to do with the good will, or lack of it, of this or that administration. The language and tactics might change, but just as a bankrupt, corrupt and undemocratic Islamic Republic needs external threats and political crisis to survive, so US and western imperialism needs not only to offload the worst effects of the economic crisis onto the countries of the periphery, but also to threaten and occasionally instigate war. Our movement must aim to stop this lunacy, but in order to do so we need to address the democratic forces in Iran and the west rather than pleading with imperialism and Iran’s reactionary rulers.

The open support of the supreme religious leader for the conservatives has radicalised the Iranian masses. Separation of state and religion has now become a nationwide demand and we must support the demonstrators’ calls for the dismantling of the offices and expropriation of funds associated with the supreme leader and of all other religious foundations. The abolition of sharia law, of the religious police and of Islamic courts is part and parcel of such a call. Even as the show trials were being broadcast, Iranian workers were continuing their struggles against privatisation (Ahmadinejad’s first economic priority in his second term is the privatisation of oil refineries) and the non-payment of wages.

These days capitalists who say they are unable to pay their workers blame not only the world economic situation but also current events in Iran itself. Yet many of them do make profits and quickly channel them abroad. Iranian workers have been demanding representation at factory level to monitor production and sales, and calling for the total transparency of company accounts. We must support these immediate demands as part of our own anti-imperialist strategy.

At a time of crisis it is inevitable that the bourgeoisie, both in the developed world and in the countries of the periphery, will act irrationally. However, it is sad to see sections of the ‘left’ adopting a different form of irrationality. If we are to expose the warmongering endemic to contemporary capitalism, we must base our approach on the independent politics of the international working class.

That is why the idiotic, class-collaborationist ‘theories’ of Casmii, Campaign Iran and the current dominant line in Monthly Review are such a disaster for the anti-war movement.

Notes

1. Over the last few weeks Monthly Review has published a number of statements defending Ahmadinejad, which has led to resignations by some members of the board and has been condemned by socialists in the US and elsewhere.
2. ‘Truth and reconciliation’, www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/iran010809.html
3. See ‘Lies cannot stop imperialists’, www.hopoi.org/lies.html
4. ‘Out of step with the masses’, July 30.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZ1FSuSgRwM&hl=en&fs=1&]

Calls for Civil Disobedience on July 21

Hopi activists have been informed that there is talk of civil disobedience  in order to shut down the electricity network in Iran on Tuesday July 21. This has predominantly come from technicians and workers in the power service, but they are also calling on people to help by switching on all power to force a shutdown. We will keep readers posted on developments as they happen.