DURING a Persian new year’s party (in late March) at Iran’s flagship South Pars project in the Persian Gulf, where the world’s largest known gasfield is being tapped, a labourer called on Iran’s workers to unite. Behnam Khodadadi demanded better pay and conditions, and a proper trade union. Around 1,500 workers stopped security guards from detaining Mr Khodadadi. A week later he was fired from his job at Iran Industrial Networks Development, a contractor for the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company. Mr Khodadadi may have been muzzled, but disaffection is growing among Iranian workers as inflation outpaces wage rises and workers are laid off. At the same time attempts to organise labour are being suppressed in the run-up to June’s presidential elections.
“They haven’t paid us for at least four months and I have to keep borrowing money,” says Jamshid, a 32-year-old industrial worker in Tehran, the capital. Last month the minimum wage was raised by 25%, to 4.87m rials ($140) a month, but even by official criteria this is one-third of what is deemed to be a living wage in the capital. The drop in the rial’s value means that, when it comes to the imports on which Iran relies, Iranian cash is worth barely a third of what it was in 2011, before the United States imposed sanctions on the country’s financial system.
Iran does not recognise independent unions, so workers have to make do with Islamic Labour Councils, which must be approved by employers and the security services. Reckoning that these councils are in cahoots with the government, workers tend to keep their grievances to themselves for fear of being sacked as troublemakers. Labour leaders are often imprisoned.
Ali Nejati and Reza Shahabi, who led sugarcane workers’ and bus drivers’ unions respectively, were recently freed under surveillance. Mr Shahabi is now in prison again, as is Muhammad Jarahi, who stands for petrochemical workers, and Shahrokh Zamani, a painter, all of them guilty of “endangering national security”. “Not having independent workers’ unions guarantees things will stay the same,” Mr Nejati recently told an Iranian radio station based in Germany. “As a workers’ representative I complained and I went to prison for it and was fired.”
Despite the long history of Iran’s labour movement and the big part its oil workers played in deposing the shah in 1979, Iran’s workers have witnessed a steady erosion of their bargaining power. After the revolution, independent workers’ councils won rights to such things as a 40-hour week and lodging allowances. They got rid of people who had worked for the shah’s intelligence service. But during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) the unions’ independence was destroyed. Under President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his successor, Muhammad Khatami, imports soared while Iran’s own manufacturing industry slumped. Unions have been further weakened by the reclassification of many workers as temporary.
Last month several bakers were arrested for allegedly organising their colleagues in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj. At the same time, workers at a tractor-making company in Tabriz, in the north-west, signed a letter accusing managers of “brutal treatment, intimidation and failing to pay wages”. “Authorities who always talk about justice in the Islamic republic should know that complete injustice prevails in this system,” they wrote.
“We are at the mercy of our employers,” says Mahmud, a Tehran street sweeper on his night shift, scraping rubbish out of an open gutter with a coarse wicker brush. “We almost never get the overtime pay we are entitled to but we can’t complain because we would be fired.” A senior municipal worker admits that thousands of non-unionised street sweepers, who clean the capital by night, often go months without pay. Last year the office of Muhammad Qalibaf, Tehran’s mayor and a presidential hopeful, commissioned a film called “Those Who Wear Orange” about a brainy university graduate who becomes a street cleaner—for love of the job.
Sattar Beheshti, who ran a blog critical of the Iranian regime, was arrested on October 30 for comments made on Facebook, and handed over to the ‘cyber police’. After a night in Evin prison, where he complained about threats and beatings, he was moved to an unknown location. By November 3rd he was dead, with evidence of torture all over his body.
Beheshti was apparently not well known as an activist, showing how far-reaching the regime’s clampdown on dissent has become.
Hands Off the People of Iran has been criticising the “Iran Tribunal” for its pro-imperialist agenda and links to funds that campaign for “regime change from above”, like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In this video, Yassamine Mather responds to some criticisms leveled against Hopi.
Norman Paech, a prominent member of the German left Party Die Linke, has joined others in withdrawing his support for the Iran Tribunal after approaches from supporters of Hands Off the People of Iran, reports Tina Becker
This is an edited version of an article recently published on the website of the German magazine Hintergrund.[i]
The Iran Tribunal continues to divide the left. Yassamine Mather’s articles in the Weekly Worker have been hotly debated in Iranacross Europe and the United States. Since she started to expose the links of the organisers to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a number of organisations and individuals have withdrawn their support. Other groups and parties have split over the issue.
It is therefore timely to take a closer look at the tribunal, its gestation, its corruption – and the fallout from Hopi’s criticism.
During the 1980s, tens of thousands of political activists in Iran were arrested, tortured and sentenced to death. Many leftists abroad and around 20,000 dissidents were murdered. The worst massacre in the summer of 1988, when between 5,000 and 7,000 political prisoners were systematically executed in a matter of weeks, their bodies dumped in anonymous mass graves.
Since then, the relatives and former comrades of those killed have fought for justice. But how to do that in today’s ? That’s the question that has heated debates amongst the Iranian left. They are united in the view that a first, important step should be the publication of the details of the massacre. After all, the government in Teheran has never the crimes and continues . Many of those responsible remain in power.
For many years, we have been fighting for an independent commission examine the horrific murders and name the guilty parties. Our model is the Russell Tribunal, which was established by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre in 1967 and which exposed very effectively the crimes US military in Vietnamsays Yassamine Mather, who has been living in exile in London for almost 30 years and today is chair of Hands Off the People of Iran. After dozens of her comrades were executed in the early 80s, Mather and other members of her organisation Fedayeen (minority) fled to Kurdistan to continue their struggle. From exile, she many more of her comrades and political friends were murdered.
Like other exiled Iranians, she initially supported the preparations for the Iran Tribunal. She even supplied it with evidence. An impressive range of international politicians and lawyers were won to the project – from Germany Norman Paech, a prominent member of Die Linke and respected professor of law.
The first stage of the tribunal from June 18-22 in Amnesty International’s HQ, 60 witnesses (all of them survivors of the massacre or relatives of those murdered) truth commissionand their family members (had supplied written statements beforehand). A report of 359 pages has since been published on the tribunal’s website. It contains an overview of the horrific conditions the prisons, a list of the names of the torturers and a detailed report of some executions. But the fully published witness statements throw a light on the brutal events. Rapes, beatings and torture were not just common, but the norm.
None of evidence is really new or unknown – but the of that the opposition was systematically exterminated. Thousands of political prisoners were to be released in 1988. Their crimes? Some had been arrested for distributing leaflets, others were members of banned organisations, some had helped to organise strikes and demonstrations. Most were arrested in the first wave of oppression in the early 1980s and sentenced to six or seven years in prison.
Their looming release came at a inconvenient time for the government in Tehran. The and unpopular war against Iraq had come to an end, leaving the theocratic regime weakened. prospect of thousands of left and militant oppositionists and the growing discontent wide of the population And so all political prisoners were dragged before makeshift courts, where an Islamic judge, a prosecutor and a representative of the intelligence services judged if they were to live or die. There were no defence lawyers, no evidence, no jury.
he Iran Tribunal that the prisoners were Muslim, if they prayed to god and if they had changed their political beliefs. If judge didn’t like an answer, the defendant was sentenced to death. The were piled into lorries and hanged or shot – often in intervals of 30 minutes. Many relatives were informed only months laterothers have never been told.
This gruesome report of the truth commission will be handed to a court in a second stage of the . This court, made up of human rights lawyers from around the world, will meet in The Hague from October 25-27 in order evaluate the and announce a judgement.
Of course we cannot implement this judgement or the results of the commission, the organisers. But the proceedings give tens of thousands of families a voice for the first time.
So far, so supportable.
However, Yassamine Mather and others when they noticed that the materials the war plans of the US and Israel. 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 : the workers, women’s groups and social movements in . Without clear opposition to war and sanctions, all those a military attack on Iran, Mather says.
Mather wrote to the committee that many of those killed were socialists who the Iranian regime, but also capitalism and imperialism. Surely, . I never even got a reply
Mather and other Iranians were taken aback by this and took a closer look at the committee and its funding. They the tribunal is supported by the Iran Human Rights Documentation, whose founder Payam Akhavan acts as the chair and spokesperson of the steering committee.
he IHRD has over the years received large from the US government.[ii] Akhavan is also active in Human Rights and Democracy for Iran (also known as the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation) is financed by 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 democracy around the globe.
It is that the US has coup and . The CIA finances, organises and trains local opposition groups. In Chile, Guatemala and many other countries, democratically elected governments were overthrown and replaced by dictators for decades. In 1953 the CIA – with the help of the British government – toppled the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh.
he US‘ strategy has been refined and regime change
In the Iranian presidential elections of 2009, the West heavily supported presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi. e was prime minister of Iran in 1988 and directly responsible for the mass murders and the extermination of the opposition (even if he didn’t order them personally). opposition split; the wave, which brought more than a million people onto the streets of Iran, has largely away.
“The NED is supposedly a private, non-government, non-profit foundation, but it receives a yearly appropriation from the US Congress”, explains the former CIA agent Philip Agee in an article on the website Clearing Hous[iii] In 2009, it was funded $135 million by the US government.
No left activist should accept money from such sourcessays Mark Fischer, chair of Hands Off the People of Iran. , totally . The has become part of the to topple the Islamic government and replace it with a US- and Israel-friendly regime.
is so bad about accepting money from the US government? it possible to receive funds from pigs without to grunt yourself
Of course it Fischer. But only if the financier places no conditions or demands on you. But the NED is an important of US-sponsored foreign policy.” Fischer says it is no coincidence or oversight that the website of the does not come out in opposition to war and sanctions. Or that it does not mention once that many of the victims of the 1988 massacre were communists and socialists.
he is part of the campaign for regime change from abovesays Fischer. This campaign bombs military threats killer commandos by the Israeli Mossad. support of politicians of the opposition is .
“first and foremost the people in Iran. The workers‘ movements and women’s organisations are currently than they have been for many yearseople struggle to get by in worsening economic conditions.”
Comrade Mather also criticises the steering committee of the , whichreads like Who is whoof fight for human rights in a total political vacuumSir Geoffrey Nice is a supporter of the Human Rights Commission of the British Conservative Party. Payam Akhavan was voted young global leader at the World Economic Forum in 2005. John Cooper QC has stood for the Labour Party in elections. All three are well-known, high-ranking lawyers who in the name of he international communithave over the years many dictators and government heads in international courts (turned on their former sponsors in the US).
The government in Tehran was able to dismiss the as part of a Western plot against Iran: the radio stations ‚Voice of America‘ and Radio Free Iran – both financed by – broadcast the witness statements uncut and for many hours.
Israeli socialist 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.”
number of former political prisoners have been criticising the and its links to the US government. But only the subject of an international when Yassamine Mather to publish research in the Weekly Worker June 2012.
“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 part of a project which is supported by the pro-war Mujahedin.”
The public meeting held on Monday 28th May to discuss the war threats against Iran, which was jointly organised by Hands Off the People of Iran and the Milton Keynes Stop the War group was a good success. Over 20 people attended and heard an excellent opening from Moshé Machover, Israeli socialist and member of the HOPI steering committee. This was followed by a good discussion with a number of interesting questions and points being raised.
Thanks to Brian Robinson for the recordings and summary of the questions.
Responding to questions (see below):
What bearing do current events in Syria have on Israeli thinking? Doesn’t it seem all part of an Israeli push for war?
Some time ago, towards the end of Saddam Hussein’s rule, there was a rumour going around the middle east about a plan to move Palestinian refugees to Iraq, the alleged quid pro quo being that if Saddam agreed, the West would “get off his back”. The questioner also heard at the same time that the Saudis allegedly backed the plan, as part of their “unholy alliance” with Israel. Was there any truth in these rumours?
There was a report in the Guardian recently about some evidence having been found of a “nuclear clear-up” in Iran. There was no suggestion that it was evidence of military potential, or indeed of any other use, but the questioner wondered how easy or difficult it was for inspectors to distinguish between civilian-use and weapons-grade radioactive material.
We are “at the mercy of decisions made in Israel and Washington” concerning these matters, but how do the Israeli general public feel about them? To what degree is there opposition to an attack on Iran amongst the general Israeli public?
Does Israel really have a nuclear bomb? There is talk that they have a stockpile of simulated nuclear bombs only, but what is Prof Machover’s view? (A. There is no question but that they do have several hundred, possibly even more than Britain.)
A further question as to how Israeli nuclear policy makes sense.
In the early days of Israel, people used to emigrate “with a very egalitarian view of what it was about”, and they lived “like communists”, but that was then and this is now. What would the world’s view be, where would things be in 50 years?
Prof Machover deals with the first part of the question, but declines, with humour, to speculate on the long term future, apart from emphasising that we are now in the middle of a worldwide crisis of global capitalism and nobody knows how it is going to be resolved.
Further question re social media, specifically Facebook and how it might affect developments.
And further to that, what effect might the Occupy movement have?
Question about the situation inside Iran.
The demographic situation in Israel is not tenable, but the questioner felt that further ethnic cleansing would be both unsustainable and unsupportable in the light of world opinion, so what did the future hold for Israel? Do not Israelis suffer from an absence of hope and do they not therefore rather “live from day to day”?
We demand the immediate release of Dr. Fariborz Raisdana!
On Monday the 20th of May, Dr Raisdana – academic, leftwing economist and writer – was arrested and sent to the notorious Evin prison. He is a well known intellectual, economist, social activist and member of the Iranian writers’ association. He has published several books and articles on political economy and sociology. He is well known as a leftist socio-economic expert who always considers the plight of the Iranian working class in his economic analysis. Dr. Raisdana’s field of expertise is econometrics. He has tried hard to disclose how workers and wage earners have been affected by the relations of political economy in the turbulent Iranian society and how they have been increasingly suffering.
He has consistently criticised the Iranian government socio-economic programmes and often points out how social and political oppression is implemented to impose policies such as the unfair plan to abolish/reduce the allocation of national subsidies. There is no doubt that military economic planning has reduced social welfare and added pressure on the poorer classes. Dr. Raisdana has always been their voice in the society and it is his stance against unfair economic policies that has landed him in jail.
HOPI condemns Dr. Raisdana’s arrest and demands his immediate and unconditional release.
In-depth interview with Yassamine Mather, chair of the Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) with the American ‘Stop Imperialism’. They discuss the geopolilitical issues surrounding Iran ranging from the controversy regarding the nuclear program to Iran’s relations with the West and the SCO. In addition, they examine some of the internal politics of Iran, including the competing factions of the ruling establishment and the role of the working class in that country. Also, they address some of the pressing economic concerns including inflation, the effect of sanctions, and the future of Iranian economic development.
(This article first appeared in the Weekly Worker)
It seems such a long time that there have been threats of military action against Iran without them being followed through that some people may have become a bit blasé. It is a bit like the boy who cried wolf too many times perhaps. However, the reality is that his time the threats are very serious.
The reasons why there are serious threats now have very little to do with the Iranian nuclear programme. Most people agree that the Iranian government exaggerates the stage it has reached and the west also exaggerates this – in regard to uranium enrichment, for example – both for their own reasons. I am not dismissing the nuclear issue altogether, but I do not think it is the reason why we are facing these serious threats.
There are other reasons. First and foremost there is the world economic crisis and the fact that the United States is in economic decline. It is feeling the pressure of both the crisis and the partial erosion of its hegemonic position – not to the extent that its hegemony is threatened by some competitor seeking to take over that role, of course. Because of that it cannot tolerate states like Iran – despite the fact that it follows every neoliberal instruction dictated by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and so on. The problem is that politically Iran is not playing the game that the hegemonic power wants it to play. For that reason it has to be taught a lesson.
Let me stress here – because within the Iranian left and opposition in general there is some confusion on this issue – I am not saying that the United States is threatened by China as a new emerging political power. China’s economic dependence on the US is well known, but, most importantly of all, China’s economic reserves are held in US dollars and in US banks: it would not be in the interest of the Chinese to wage an economic war against the United States; quite the reverse. And China too is very much affected by the economic crisis, just as many countries in the developing and emerging economies are facing its effects.
Leaving aside the effects of the economic crisis, the political reason the US needs to exert its power in the region arises from the fact that its position has been damaged by the two wars it has waged in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I am not using the word ‘defeat’ in this context, as it is more complicated than simply saying the US was defeated in Iraq: clearly it was not. But the outcome is certainly not what anyone in the US political establishment would have wanted: a political regime totally allied to the Iranian government. That must have been the worst-case scenario for American strategists. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq under the Ba’athist regime was a staunch opponent of the Iranians and its downfall has strengthened Iran. The same is also true of Afghanistan. Iran was no friend of the Taliban, but the Karzai regime has distanced itself at times from the US and has moved to find better relations with Iran – both with the supreme leader and with Ahmadinejad. The rapprochement between Iran and Afghanistan gives Iran influence in a very strategic part of the world. This strategic importance is not simply about oil (though there is the additional issue of the oil-rich Gulf region), but about its geopolitical significance.
As the Saudis keep telling the US, the two wars have produced Shia governments all the way from the borders of Iran to the Levant, and that is a serious matter. In the regional context I know that some people in the Stop the War Coalition have said that if Iran is attacked we will see demonstrations in every Arab country, not least Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood will be up in arms. The reality is that there is now another very forceful voice in addition to Israel telling the United States to go to war against Iran, and that voice is Saudi Arabia – and, by extension, some of the Sunni Islamic groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Anyone who has any understanding of the Gulf, who knows the history of the Muslim Brotherhood, will understand that would be their position as well – the MB has expressed this in various interviews. The opposition to Iran from the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries is poisonous and vehement: you can hear it and you can feel it if you watch Al Arabiya television for 10 minutes. For them it is clear that Iran is the main enemy; they have forgotten about Israel. In fact Israel, Saudi Arabia and the GCC now have a common enemy: Iran.
Also we have now seen Hamas distancing itself from both Syria and Iran, contrary to what hopeful, and I assume uninformed, members of the STWC are telling us. Hamas has been issuing statements saying that if there is a war between Iran and Israel it will stay neutral. As someone who has never supported Hamas it frightens me that it would make such a statement. But that is the reality of the regional context and no manner of wishful thinking can change this. Iran has influence in the Middle East, but also many enemies, and the United States knows it.
In addition to all this the US is in an election year and there is not a single primary where the Republicans do not voice concern about Obama’s ‘irresponsible’ attitude and ‘softness’ on Iran, which adds to the pressure. It is not simply a matter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee supporting a Republican candidate instead of Obama: I assume AIPAC-influenced votes are divided between both parties. But constant allegations in an election year that the administration is not doing enough, that it is not showing its muscle and that it is displaying weakness can be added to the reality of a superpower feeling threatened by the economic crisis and its political position.
So the threat of war should be taken seriously. The people of Iran are certainly taking it seriously and for them it is a nightmare, a disaster. Whatever political opinion Iranians may hold, they consider the threat of military action a terrible reminder of the Iran-Iraq war – but they realise that this time it could be far worse and on a far larger scale. And in many ways it seems the war has already started because the majority of the people are suffering from the severity of the sanctions. These are not sanctions like those applied against South Africa. They are really affecting ordinary people in their day-to-day lives.
The effects are both psychological and material. For a few years there have been shortages of surgical equipment, of medication, of certain types of spare parts for cars and planes and so on. If your car needs a spare part and the part is on the US list of equipment which could potentially be ‘used for nuclear arms acquisition’, you will just have to write off your car. Alternatively people have attempted to make their own spare parts – and the state has attempted to do the same thing for aircraft – which has made things extremely unsafe. There have been serious accidents, with people endangering their own lives and their surroundings, as they try to work round the sanctions in various ways.
However, the most serious effects of the sanctions have been felt since January and there are two reasons for this. One is that the banking and foreign exchange measures have really hit home. Swift (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), through which credit/debit transactions are run via member-banks, is now removing Iran from its list, which means that credit cards can no longer be used in Iran from next month. This is problematic for ordinary Iranians, but also makes it difficult for industry to buy raw materials. I was talking to some people who work in a factory and they were saying that the owner cannot get any of the material he used to buy. They said that usually the capitalists make up such stories as an excuse to sack workers, but in this case the stories are true – they cannot perform the necessary transactions. There have been some smaller banks prepared to bypass these sanctions, but these are being forced to comply.
Banking sanctions have affected the Iranian currency dramatically since January of this year. This was added to the EU decision to stop buying Iranian oil from July. But just the announcement of the banking sanctions brought the Iranian currency to its knees – it lost half its value in 10 hours. Apart from the psychological effect, this shows us how the capitalists both within and outside government circles have been losing confidence in their own state – so much so that suddenly nobody wants to keep their money in tomans (one toman equals 10 official Iranian rials). One dollar is now worth 2,000 tomans – up from 1,200 before the announcement. The state intervened, restricting currency trading and increasing interest rates, but, of course, none of this has had the desired effect and the value of the rial has almost been halved.
Iran’s economy is now one of an importing country, apart from oil. This has resulted from neoliberalism, as well as the land reform and privatisation that has taken place. Agriculture in Iran has been destroyed. The country now imports most of the fruit and vegetables that used to come from within. In most ‘third world’ countries you can usually say, at least food staples are relatively cheap, but this is not the case in Iran. Land reform has driven the peasantry off the land and into shanty towns in the urban areas. What is left of mechanised agriculture is utilised for export crops, which provide good foreign currency returns. Privatisation has resulted in widespread destruction of sections of the food industry, affecting staple foods. The price of rice doubled in January and the same is true for other grains.
In addition to that, imported food is being held up. Shipping companies have been told that if they offload their goods in Iranian ports they will be put on sanction lists. They are taking this very seriously and mostly complying. There are reports, for example, of a ship full of grain from the Ukraine refusing to offload its goods once it had docked. Its owners had second thoughts and told the crew to leave. It was better for the company to do this than be on the US blacklist.
These sanctions have nothing to do with stopping Iran’s nuclear programme. They are for regime change. The US has made up its mind to flex its muscles in the region and install a more compliant regime in Tehran. Now, many Iranians are very sympathetic to the idea of regime change, but they most certainly do not want this to come about through outside interference. Ironically a notion that is so distasteful to ordinary people inside Iran has appealed to certain organisations in exile, some of whom are so desperate for regime change that they do not stop and think about the implications of military action, or what would come afterwards. Could it be worse than the current situation? Yes, it could. The examples of Iraq and Afghanistan prove it.
Things are indeed very bad for workers in Iran. Unemployment has rocketed, with youth unemployment particularly serious. Many workers are on contracts that allow for instant dismissal, and are often not paid for months. In addition to this, the struggle of Iranians against their own religious state is intensifying. What was, in some senses, a pluralistic dictatorship, is now becoming much more monolithic. This can be seen in the recent election results, combined with the defeat of the green movement in 2009.
Of course, there is strong opposition to the regime. But people do not want another state to decide the fate of their country, and in that sense I think the opposition to the war is so strong that it might actually strengthen the regime and help it survive. It is one of those cases where one does not know how far that process might go. Some say that the US is betting on the fact that the stepping up of sanctions will make the people so desperate they will rebel. But in my view they are wrong: it could have completely the reverse effect.
In some ways we saw this in the election results at the beginning of March. Of course, the regime exaggerated the turnout – I would say that at most one third of the electorate voted. This was despite the fact that the government did its best to make it an election against the war, claiming that voting was a matter of honour, of preserving the nation. One can see the how serious the situation is by the following conundrum: on the one hand, the regime stays in power and the threats increase. On the other hand, the regime change planned by the US would almost certainly involve the dismantling of the country we currently know as Iran.
Take Balochistan. The US is clearly looking to separate it off. It has emerged that Israeli Mossad agents have approached the Balochi opposition pretending to represent the CIA and it was only a year later that the US found out. Then, of course, there was the flood of denials. The US is doing this with more subtlety than the Israelis, but the idea remains one of creating a ‘greater Balochistan’ standing between and in opposition to both Iran and Pakistan.
The Kurdish issue is also an obvious one. There is strong opposition to the repression of the Iranian state. But some of the Kurdish groups would be happy to see a Kurdish republic created under US supervision, presumably not realising where that would lead. It would be a worse outcome for the Kurdish people than the terrible situation they already have to endure under Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
It goes without saying that I support the Kurds’ right to self-determination. Kurdish areas in Turkey and Iraq, as well as in Iran, have been deliberately kept more undeveloped than any other part of those countries, first by western client regimes and then by subsequent governments. As a result there is a very small working class in these regions. For example, working class Iranian Kurds tend to seek employment in Tehran or Azerbaijan.
I would argue for a united socialist Iran with a united, autonomous Kurdistan as a federated part of it. That is a much more attractive proposition for the Kurdish working class than the establishment of a small independent country based on three separate, economically undeveloped regions all with a very weak proletariat. Because of the absence of a strong working class, the Kurdish nationalist parties tend towards pre-capitalist, feudal methods in order to maintain their support. It would be possible to unite these three enclaves into a single state, but that state would be dominated by reactionary forces. Would that be progress for the Kurdish people or the Kurdish working class? I do not think so. As much as I defend the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination – and it must be their choice – I would advocate a federal arrangement within a socialist Iran. That would be better in the long run than a small, impotent Kurdistan state.
Similarly the separation of the Arab regions of Iran has always been on the agenda of neighbouring Arab countries. There is strong sentiment involved: Iranian Arabs speak a different language, they have been repressed. Even when oil prices were at their peak the region was deprived, with people being racially abused and so on. However, becoming part of Saudi Arabia or other states of the Gulf Cooperation will not do them any good either, yet that is the plan. And then there is the idea that a big chunk of Iran should be incorporated into Azerbaijan – there is an understandable sentiment amongst some Azeri Turks in Iran that the idea of joining a bigger Azerbaijan republic would be better than remaining part of Iran.
But all of these scenarios would be profoundly negative – not just for the Iranian peoples, but for the broader region and the world as a whole. Decimating a country in order to make sure that the hegemonic state remains powerful and has no headaches in the region is not a solution. The fact that national minorities in the region have been badly treated is well established and this is a serious issue that must be resolved through the right to self-determination. However, as communists we must be honest and state clearly that the fragmentation of Iran into small, weak units would produce a far worse situation than the present one. As in occupied Iraqi Kurdistan, it is likely that lackeys of the US would be in charge – no-one can claim that Kurds in Iraq are in control of their own destiny. The demand should be for the voluntary union of Iran’s peoples on the basis of democracy and equality.
There are those on the left who say that now is not the time to raise our voices against the Islamic Republic. But opposing this war does not mean suspending our opposition to the theocracy. Within the Iranian opposition there are very few – whether on the left or right – whose opposition to the war leads them to cease opposing the regime. It is the Islamic regime which has created this appalling situation for its own people. The regime itself has imposed neoliberal economic policies that have produced the situation where sanctions are so effective now. It is the state that is responsible for this economically disastrous situation, where the country is becoming utterly dependent on imports for every basic food item. So we cannot say that it is not about the regime.
Then there is the idea that I hear from some Stop the War people that the streets of London are not the place to fight the Islamic Republic. This is an insult to us Iranians. I fought the Islamic Republic in Tehran, but I was forced into exile. I fought the Islamic Republic in Kurdistan, but I could not stay because of the war being waged there. It is my right and my internationalist duty to fight the Islamic republic on the streets of London and no-one from Stop the War can tell me otherwise. Yet it is very often the same people who then tell us that “We are all Greeks today” when it comes to the protests in Athens and elsewhere. What is the logic of that? How come we are “all Greeks”, or “all Egyptians”, but we must not be all Iranians. Oh no – better not say anything about the Islamic regime! Needless to say, I do not accept this argument.
However, I also do not underestimate those sections of the Iranian opposition that are soft on the threat of war. The danger posed by such oppositionists is a very serious one for the Iranian people. I have no expectations otherwise of the right – the royalists have been dreaming from their comfortable homes in Washington or California of regime change imposed by the US for 33 years. But there are groups even among left opponents of the regime that now say, maybe the sanctions are a good idea, because perhaps it will force the hand of the Iranian government. Whether they have that effect or not, they may well destroy the country and starve millions of Iranians in the process. Hardly a useful way to change a regime. You might end up with one that is even worse – perhaps a military dictatorship with a ‘reformist’ Islamist figurehead. Would this be a solution to the problems facing Iran?
There are also sections of the Iranian left that take the opposite stance. Time and time again we have told organisations that defend the Iranian working class – and there are many who have done a good job in raising the issue of workers being attacked and arrested, etc – you cannot do this effectively unless you also raise the issue of war and sanctions. They never took this seriously until this year. However, I am very glad that the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran has now issued a very clear statement against war and against sanctions. That is a good step. However, I must say that if they had joined us two or three years ago to build a serious campaign in defence of Iranian workers, while at the same time opposing war and sanctions, we would have been in a much stronger position.
I think, because of our principled position, Hands Off the People of Iran is in a unique position to lead the fight against this war. Now is the time to build Hopi, not as an alternative to the Stop the War Coalition – what a ridiculous suggestion – but as an organisation that has built up a reputation precisely because of that principled position. Personally I thought there was no point in Hopi applying yet again to affiliate to STWC, to be honest. But we can build Hopi because the Iranian working class needs us to and it is our duty to provide them with internationalist support and solidarity. But this is not just about Iran. It is about maintaining principle in terms of internationalism, in terms of dealing with the crisis, in terms of not falling for superficial slogans.
This is not just a repeat of the Iraq war: it is perhaps even more serious in some ways. These threats come at a time of economic crisis and it could turn out to be a war aiming to save capitalism. So let us build Hopi, make it stronger. Let us go nationwide. We have the politics, we have the comrades who have stayed loyal to the campaign and we have the correct arguments.
On January 28 around 300 protesters gathered at the American embassy to oppose the increasingly bellicose rhetoric against Iran and Syria. Called by the Stop the War Coalition under the title of ‘Stop the war before it starts: don’t attack Iran/Syria’, the protest was in many respects something that seasoned activists in the anti-war movement would be all too familiar with. Well-meaning, if often slightly tedious and repetitive speeches, a few chants and the promise to build an enormous opposition that could finally scupper the imperialists’ plans once and for all. However, it soon became apparent that this was not going to be simply ‘business as usual’. In a somewhat embarrassing indictment to the approach of ‘as broad as possible’ typified by the coalition, several speakers were booed or chanted down, and fights broke out between protesters. At one point a group of Iranians from the London Green movement lined up against supporters of the Syrian Baathist regime under the sway of Bashar Al-Assad. It was not pretty.
The first indications that something was not quite right came when I was handing out Hands Off the People of Iran leaflets (‘Make your voice heard’: see here). The leaflets were readily snapped up, but it soon became apparent that several of the people I had handed leaflets too – particularly young men – were sporting baseball caps emblazoned with the Syrian flag (not that of the Syrian opposition) and a picture of Al-Assad in all his despotic glory.
At the same time, about 40 Iranian protesters were gathering behind banners reading ‘Free Iran’. From afar, this demonstration must have seemed like the prelude to some conflict, not a demonstration to oppose one.
When the rather compromised figure of Abbas Eddalat of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran spoke, noise erupted from the ‘Free Iran’ contingent. In the din it was not all clear what he was saying – though he went out of his way to assure the protesters that the theocratic regime in Iran was not interested in building nuclear weapons. It was obvious that the Iranians wanted their voices to be heard in a different fashion, by somebody else.
This angered the Syrians, and soon both groups squared up. They were separated only by police barriers and four or five rather dumbfounded police constables. Some of the younger male Syrians initially managed to get quite close to the Iranians. Wrapped in Syrian flags and with bandanas reading “labeik Khameni – I worship Khamenei” around their heads, they meted out some quite heavy blows to some of the Iranians leading the chants. Adding to the absurdity of the situation, the handful of Iranians waving the Islamic Republic of Iran flags then joined with their Syrian comrades. One woman joined the two together and waved them proudly. The Iranian Khamenei supporters were in a distinct minority – most were young men from Syria. Yet the Iranian Islamists were not coy, with one pushing Hopi chair Yassamine Mather as she was being filmed. This sets a rather distasteful precedent.
Chants of ‘Long live Syria’ were met with ‘Down with Hezbollah’. Some of the chanting being lead from the stage was utterly drowned out. Keen to find out just who some of these people were, comrades working with Hopi managed to speak to some of them, and were informed that it was actually acceptable for women wearing bikinis to be stoned.
There was a fleeting moment of humanity, however, when the clashes temporarily were broken off to remove a small girl from the crowd, who had been hurtled to the floor.
But from this point on things were really out of control. The stewards were quite rightly at a loss, and some of the protesters were calling in the police to break up fights.
Speeches from the platform were constantly interrupted: it seemed that the Syrians wanted to talk about Syria. Indeed, this demonstration was also supposed to be about Syria too. But the organisers were keen to play down the Syrian aspect and none of the platform speakers really discussed Syria at all. This obviously upset the al-Assad fans, leading to them disrupting the demonstration and letting loose on the Iranian oppositionists. They did their best to make it known just how much they loved al-Assad, instigating attempts by rather embarrassed Iranians to stop them .
One of the main organisers of the Syrian contingent could be seen handing out copies of the CPGB-ML’s publication, ‘Proletarian’. I therefore wondered whether some of the hostility towards StWC speakers also stemmed from the latter organisation’s unceremonious ejection from the coalition for their veneration of former Libyan despot, Colonel Gaddafi.
Opportunism is the handmaiden of inconsistency. After all, just a few months ago the leadership of Stop the War booted out these very same people for their fawning praise of Gaddafi, supposed man of the people.
So it was fine (indeed a precondition of membership!) to oppose imperialist intervention in Libya while supporting protesters against their own dictator, but when it comes to Iran … No, no comrades, we cannot allow forces to affiliate to the coalition (like Hopi) who have the temerity to oppose imperialism AND criticise the theocracy. Many platform speakers were absolutely correct to chastise the double standards of the West when lecturing Iran on the perils of nuclear technology. But we also have to look at our own movement’s double standards once in a while.
The organisers did their best to calm the situation. But the arguments of the main speakers Lindsey German, John Rees and Andrew Murray were, as with their arguments against Hopi, largely mendacious.
“You are making the biggest mistake of your lives if on the basis of opposition you support the war”, Lindsey German shouted over the noise.
Quite right. In the past, the Iranian left has, of course, been tainted by the presence of all sorts of useful idiots lining up with the war drive. But the 40 or so Iranians at this demonstration were clearly, visibly anti-war. Most were keen to take a Hopi leaflet, and many carried official Stop the War placards reading ‘Don’t attack Iran’. Some of their supporters held up signs making the obvious point: ‘Sanctions and war kill Iran’s democracy movement’. If there is a criticism that can be made of the ‘London Green movement’, it is that their opposition to the entire regime came far too late. But now is the time to organise. The Iranians present on the demonstration should affiliate to the StWC and fight for basic internationalist principles.
German, Rees et al are actually going to fairly desperate lengths to dodge the issue at hand, ie the fact that they have consistently – both in the SWP and their new setup – opposed the affiliation of anti-imperialists critical of the Iranian regime. Hopi does not to make it a condition of entry that the StWC adopts the same policies as Hopi. We are in Britain and thus – yes – our main duty is to stop the warmongers. But we reject the notion that we must silence ourselves if we want to take part. Given that a section of the Iranian regime are not exactly indifferent to the prospect of war (desperate times, desperate measures!) this matter is hardly a mere trifle.
Indeed, I am also a bit perplexed by the notion that ‘the Iranian regime is a matter for the Iranian people themselves’. On one level this is obvious. Even though the clashes between Hezbollah supporters and Iranian democracy protesters may have made it feel like Tehran, the demo took place in London.
But is not the struggle against war in the Middle East – a powder keg of war and revolution – bound up with the strength and success of radical movements for change from below? Is it so heinous a crime to have platform speakers who have politics beyond ‘let’s all stop the war’? Fresh from a trip to Cairo, John Rees made this very point: the unfolding Egyptian revolution stood as an indictment of the arguments made by liberal and social imperialists about how US intervention brings democracy: the Egyptian military are shooting democracy protesters with US bullets! Indeed, but why does such a fundamental point only apply to US client states, and not those at odds with imperialism too? His logic shows something that far too many of the left (and on the far right) still cling too – the notion of an ‘anti-imperialist camp’ led, however imperfectly, by those like Al-Assad, Nasrollah or Khamenei.
Yet this flawed logic is increasingly at odds with reality. Indeed, there are encouraging signs that Counterfire’s erstwhile comrades in the SWP seem to be gradually turning away from their previous approach. (We should not forget that in 2006 SWP members Somaye Zadeh, Alys Zaerin and Casmi’s Abbas Eddalat led the charge against Hopi’s affiliation to StWC with very dubious, pro-theocracy arguments – see here: http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker2/index.php?action=issue&issue=695).
But back in December, an Iranian SWP member, comrade Ali Alizadeh, gave a talk on ‘The lessons of Islamism’, in which he ended with a call to oppose any imperialist intervention without falling into the trap of allying ourselves with the regime. (His talk can be viewed online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn3__XoTlTk). For the moment his comrades do not seem to be doing much about fighting for this line in the StWC. Curiously, the report of the demo by Sian Ruddick in Socialist Worker online does not mention the stand-off at all (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=27366). SWP comrades obviously pretend this did not happen.
After all, Saturday’s sorry mess is just another tragic testament to the perils of popular frontism, of the poverty of political vision manifest in the StWC leadership over the years.
Hopefully there will be a rethink. But for the moment, the signs are few and far between. Chris Nineham could only roll out the usual call: put aside our differences and build the ‘broadest possible movement’. Always absurd, this message was rendered slightly more absurd by the fact that only state intervention could prevent what appeared to be a full-scale fight between the Iranians and the Syrians.
We in Hands Off the People of Iran have constantly pointed out the dangerous waters the anti-war movement will get itself into by putting narrow sect manoeuvering over politics and principles. We do not rub our hands in glee at the mess that unfolded before us on January 28, because it discredits our movement as a whole. Yes, we want the broadest, most militant movement of opposition possible. But we also want a movement that thinks and debates, that does not leave its politics outside of the movement, and that welcomes a whole range of critical views and ideas – not just those that are not too unpalatable for German, Rees and Murray.
We are potentially heading into extremely dangerous times. More than ever, a clear message of working class internationalism is needed in our movement. We call upon all anti-imperialists to fight for the right of Hopi to affiliate to the StWC – and for a clear change of strategy. The times demand nothing less. Join Hopi’s campaign and fight for anti-imperialism in the anti-war movement.