Hands Off the People of Iran chair Yassamine Mather assesses the current situation in Iran at Communist University 2010.
The attempt by the two wings of the Iranian regime to shelve their differences is unlikely to defuse the mass movement, writes Yassamine Mather
More than two weeks after the demonstrations of December 27 2009, the political repercussions of these events, and the reaction to the anger and radicalism of the protesters, continue. Clearly now no-one, from the government to the ‘reformists’, to the revolutionary opposition, has any doubt that the current protests are no longer about who should be the ‘president’ of the Islamic Republic, but represent a serious challenge to the very existence of the religious state.
Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, as they commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Mohammed in 680AD. In December 2009 it coincided with the seventh day following the death of a clerical critic of the regime, ayatollah Montazeri. Throughout Iran hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets with slogans against the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. When security forces attacked, the crowds fought back. Tehran was “covered in thick smoke from fires and tear gas” and there was “hand-to-hand combat between security forces and the protesters,” with reports of street battles in other major cities.1 For the first time in the last 30 years, many women came out into the streets to join the demonstrations wearing no headscarves or hijabs.
At a number of locations in Tehran security forces were forced to retreat, as demonstrators burnt police vehicles and bassij posts and erected barricades. There are videos showing instances where police and bassij were captured and detained by demonstrators and three police stations in Tehran were briefly occupied. Demonstrators also attacked Bank Saderat in central Tehran, setting it on fire.
The government’s reaction was predictable. Since December 27 bassij and pasdaran (revolutionary guards) have been unleashed to impose further repression. Hundreds of people have been incarcerated. The summary arrest of leftwing and worker activists, the death sentences issued against left political prisoners, the sacking of workers already in prison are part of a deliberate attempt by the regime to impose an atmosphere of terror.
Ultra-conservative clerics have also called for the arrest and execution of ‘reformist’ leaders. In a speech on January 9 the supreme leader told government security forces and the judiciary to act decisively against “rioters and anti-government demonstrators”.
Despite the bravado of Khamenei, there are clear signs that the demonstrations of December 27 have divided the conservatives further on how to respond to the protests. While supporters of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly call for more arrests and even the execution of political opponents, the ‘principlist’ faction2 within parliament is preaching caution.
On January 9, a parliamentary committee publicly blamed Tehran’s former prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, a close ally of Ahmadinejad, for the death of three prisoners arrested during anti-government protests in June 2009. The committee found that Mortazavi had authorised the imprisonment of 147 opposition supporters and 30 criminals in a cell measuring only 70 square metres in Kahrizak detention centre. The inmates were frequently beaten and spent days without food or water during the summer.
Ali Motahhari, a prominent fundamentalist parliamentarian, told the weekly magazine Iran Dokht: “Under the current circumstances, moderates should be in charge of the country’s affairs.” He suggested Ahmadinejad should also be held accountable for the deaths in Kahrizak and for fuelling the post-election turmoil. Iranian state television is broadcasting debates between ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ conservatives, in which Ahmadinejad is blamed by some for causing the crisis.
There are two reasons for this dramatic change in line:
1. The December 27 demonstrations were a turning point, in that both conservatives and ‘reformists’ came to realise how the anger and frustration of ordinary Iranians with the political and economic situation is taking revolutionary forms.
2. The principlists are responding to a number of ‘proposals’ by leading ‘reformists’ as a last attempt to save the Islamic Republic. Fearful of revolution, ‘reformist’ leaders from the June 2009 presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi to former president Mohammad Khatami have made conciliatory statements, and the moderate conservatives have responded positively to these approaches.
In a clear sign that ‘reformists’ have heard the cry of the revolution, Moussavi’s initial response to the Ashura demonstrations was to distance himself from the protests, emphasising that neither he nor Mehdi Karroubi had called for protests on that day. His statement on January 1 entitled ‘Five stages to resolution’ (of the crisis) was a signal to both his supporters and opponents that this was truly the last chance to save the Islamic regime from collapse.
Western reportage of the statement concentrated on his comment, “I am ready to sacrifice my life for reform.” Of course, Iranians are well known for their love of ‘martyrdom’, from Ashura itself to the Fedayeen Islam in 1946,3 to the Marxist Fedayeen (1970s-80s). Iranians have been mesmerised by the Shia concept of martyrdom, inherited from Sassanide ideals, a yearning to put their lives at risk for what they see as a ‘revolutionary cause’. But Moussavi will no doubt go down in history as the first Iranian who is putting his life on the line for the cause of ‘reform’ and compromise!
His five-point plan is seen as a compromise because it does not challenge the legitimacy of the current president and “presents a way out of the current impasse” in order to save the Islamic Republic, basically demanding more freedom for the Islamic ‘reformist’ politicians, activists and press, as well as accountability of government forces, while reaffirming his allegiance to the constitution of the Islamic regime, as well as the existing “judicial and executive powers”. The preamble to the proposal explains very well Moussavi’s message to the supreme leader and the conservative faction: it is not too late to save the regime, but this could be our last chance.
It reads: “Today the situation of the country is like an immense roaring river, where massive floods and various events have led to its rising and then caused it to become silted. The solution to calm down this great river and clear its water is not possible in a quick and swift action. Thinking of these kinds of solutions that some should repent and some should make deals and there should be some give and take to solve this great problem is in practice going off the track … I also believe that it is still not too late and our establishment has the power to accomplish this important task, should it have insight and a respectful and kind view toward all of the nation and its layers.”
This statement was followed on January 4 by a ‘10-point proposal’ from the self-appointed ‘ideologues’ in exile of Iran’s Islamic ‘reformist’ movement: the former Pasdar, Akbar Ganji (nowadays introduced on BBC and CNN as a “human rights activist!”), Abdolkarim Soroush, Mohsen Kadivar, Abdolali Bazargan and Ataollah Mohajerani.4
Fearful that the Moussavi plan will be seen by many as too much of a compromise, the group of five call for the resignation of Ahmadinejad and fresh elections under the supervision of a newly established independent election commission to replace that of the Guardian Council. In the last few days both Khatami and another former president, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, have publicly declared their support for the compromise, while condemning “radicals and rioters”. Khatami went further than most, insulting demonstrators who called for the overthrow of the Islamic regime.
All in all, it has been a busy two and a half weeks for Iran’s ‘reformists’, terrified by the radicalism of the demonstrators and desperate to save the clerical regime at all cost. Inevitably the reformist left, led by the Fedayeen Majority, is tailing the Moussavi-Khatami line. However, inside Iran there are signs that the leadership of the green movement is facing a serious crisis.
None of the proposals addresses the most basic democratic demand of the Iranian people: separation of state and religion. A widely distributed leaflet and web post inside Iran entitled ‘Who is the leader of the current protest movement in Iran?’ refers to comments made by ayatollah Taleghani 31 years ago,5 at the height of the revolutionary movement. Taleghani, faced with a similar question, replied that it was the shah who led the protest movement because the repression he imposed and his inability to compromise caused it to move forward day by day. The leaflet concludes that the current force leading the movement is supreme leader Khamenei, who by his words and actions is fuelling the revolutionary fervour.
Working class response
In every event Iranians see real and imaginary parallels with the 1978-79 uprising that led to the shah’s downfall. Last week the publication of Khamenei’s alleged escape plans and the revelations that senior clerics had arranged to send their fortunes abroad to avoid sanctions and the consequences of an uprising reminded Iranians of January 1979, when the shah and his entourage were busy making similar arrangements.
The Iranian left is not immune to such nostalgia. Arguments about the ‘principal contradiction’ and ‘stages of revolution’ seem to dominate current debates. While some Maoists argue in favour of a ‘democratic stage’ of the revolution, citing the relative weakness of the organised working class, the Coordinating Committee for the Setting Up of Workers’ Organisations (Comite Hahamhangi) points out that the dominant contradiction in Iran, a country where 70% of the population lives in urban areas, is between labour and capital. They point out that the level and depth of workers’ struggles show radicalism and levels of organisation and that the Iranian working class is the only force capable of delivering radical democracy.
Leftwing organisations and their supporters are also discussing the lessons to be learnt from the Ashura demonstrations. Clearly sections of the police and soldiers are refusing to shoot at demonstrators and the issue of organising radical conscripts in order to divide and reduce the power of the state’s repressive forces must be addressed. In some working class districts around Tehran and other major cities the organisation of neighbourhood shoras (councils) has started.
The current debates within the ruling circles have had no impact on the level of protests undertaken by workers and students. There are reports of strikes and demonstrations in one of Iran’s largest industrial complexes, Isfahan’s steel plant, where privatisation and contract employment have led to action by the workers. Leftwing oil workers/employees are reporting disillusionment with Moussavi and the ‘reformist’ camp amongst fellow workers and believe there is an opportunity to radicalise protests in this industry despite the fact that close control and repression has intensified over the recent period.
Last week a number of prominent labour activists, including Vahed bus worker Mansour Ossanlou, who are currently in prison (some incarcerated for over a year) were sacked from their jobs for ‘failing to turn up at work’, which prompted protests in Vahed depots and the Haft Tapeh sugar cane plant. In late December workers at the Lastic Alborz factory went on strike demanding payment of unpaid wages. This week workers have been holding protests at dozens of workplaces, including the Arak industrial complex, the Mazandaran textile factory, at the Polsadr metro construction and in Tonkabon.
Over the next few weeks Iranian workers will face major challenges. Even if the two main factions of the regime achieve a compromise, it will be unlikely to defuse the movement. In fact the conciliatory line of Moussavi and Khatami is certain to further reduce their influence amongst protesters. However, if the religious state is able to reunite, it will be more difficult to attend demonstrations, call strikes and hold sit-ins, etc.
Whatever happens, Iranian workers will need our solidarity more than ever. That is why Hands Off the People of Iran is currently planning a week of solidarity and fundraising actions in February – check the Hopi website for more details (www.hopoi.org).
1. New York Times December 29 2009.
2. One of the groups in the conservative faction of the Iranian parliament.
3. Fedayeen Islam was one of the first truly Islamic fundamentalist organisations in the Muslim world. It was founded in Iran by Navab Safavi in 1946 for the purpose of demanding strict application of the sharia and assassinating those it believed to be apostates and enemies of Islam.
5. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahmoud_Taleghani.
On December 30 two students were critically wounded and scores injured by knife wielding members of Ansar-e Hezbollah and Basij militia, up to 500 thugs were brought in to attack students at Mashhad University after they staged anti-regime protests during Ashura. One of the students professors was also attacked and sustained knife wounds, whilst a young female student was badly injured after being struck repeatedly over the head with a piece of wood. Students at the university were holding silent mourning ceremonies for the Ashura were they opposed the repression of popular protests. The police aided the Basij and Hezbollah by blocking the roads leading up to the University and attacking crowds of students with tear gas and batons. Around 210 students and youth were arrested by the state-repressive forces throughout the recent Ashura protests. Below is the video of the brutal attack by Basij and Hezbollah on students:
The day after over 4000 students and professors staged protests against the attacks and arrests at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad and Azad University of Mashhad but were laid siege by security forces and militia. Students, professors and parents have trie dto find out information on the arrested and injured. The local judiciary is refusing to release information on the two seriously injured students, leading to speculation that the student have died and the authorities do not want there funerals to become a focus of further anti-regime protests. Students sent a delegation of representatives from the Islamic Organisation of the university to a meeting with university officials where they were arrested. Amongst those arrested is Seyed Sadra Mirada a relative of Khamanei. Below is a video of the gathering of students and youth on December 31:
Below is a brief report of the moves the regime has been taking against known leftwing activists and the threats that leading officialis have been giving on state television. This report was sent to us by Anahita Hosseini of the ‘Independent Leftist Students’ who represent an anti-imperialist socialist tendency within the student movement in Iran
After the mass protests of Sunday December 17 the regime is showing its fear of people uprising by going to well known activists homes one by one and arresting them. This morning armed plain cloths forces went to Mahin Fahimis home who is a member of the organization of: mothers for peace and arrested her and her son Omid Montazeri who is a known leftist student activist. Omid is Hamid Montazeriz son a known communist activist who was executed by the regime during the mass murders of the leftists and Mujahadeen in prison in 1988.
Ardavan Tarakameh another leftist student activist who was staying in Omids home this morning was arrested, afterwards the plain cloths forces went to Ardavan’s parents home and searched it all and took some books and notes, and told his mother she is not allowed to ask any questions about what they are doing or where her son is. Zohreh Takaboni one of the mothers for peace whose husband was also executed as a leftist in 1988 has also been arrested.
The regime has started a new scenario since this morning on all of their TV channels they are talking about what happened in the 80s they are talking about the leftist opposition of Iran in those days and how the regime killed them! because of their activities, they are frankly threatening people that they are not afraid of repeating the history.
After yesterdays uprising it became more obvious that no one is of the illusion of re-running the elections. The slogans are aimed at the regime and Khamenei himself, radicalization of the movement has made the regime fearful of the effect of the lefftist and the other radical activists on the current uprising. They are threatening to bring back the black and the bloody decade of 80’s in which they mass murdered thousands of the bravest, purest and the true believers of freedom and equality especially in 1988 when they executed thousands (possibly 30 thousand) leftists and Mujahadeen and buried them in the mass graves. Now they are threatening their children and all the other activists and all people who are yelling their anger against them, in their official news today they said: the rebels have crossed the red lines by having slogans against Khamenei and they will all pay back for it. what is obvious is that they will not be able to repeat the bloody years of 80s because they cant mass murder a nation. But we should take the threat serious on the level that we know this regime has nothing to lose and before its final collapse they may do anything for revenge. They may try to limit the number of activists against them, the threats they have started against people is important on these levels, and it is our responsibility to fight until the release of each and every political prisoner in Iran alongside supporting the peoples uprising. Underestimating the threats of the dictator regime in taking revenge on the protesters can end in a catastrophe.
We will fight until all of our classmates, comrades and friends are released. We wont let the Islamic Republic take the revenge of its inevitable collapse on activists.
Unity – Struggle – Victory
December 27 was the bloodiest and most violent convulsion in Iran since the June elections. Millions of ordinary Iranians came out onto the streets to use the Ashura ceremonies and mourning as a focal point of opposition protests. In every part of Iran security forces backed up by Basij militia and the revolutionary guard (Pasdaran) resorted to ever intensifying violence as swarms of protestors over-ran state-repressive forces. It is unclear how many have been killed and arrested at this time, the regime say that only 4 have been killed, whilst student websites and news feeds from Iran put the number around 15. ‘Reformist’ leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s nephew is among the dead. The official reason for these deaths have been accidents and murder by ‘uknown assailants’. The regime has admitted to arresting over 300 protestors yesterday, this number will undoubtedly be much greater.
Clashes took place in Shiraz, Isfahan, Ardebil, Arababad, Mashhad. Whilst Marshal Law was declared in Najaf-Abad, at least four have been killed in the city of Tabriz and the house of recently deceased Ayatollah Montazeri was the scene of heavy fighting in Qom.
Protests began in the morning around 10 am with heavy security presence on major streets, squares and transport links. In Tehran the supreme leader’s residence was surrounded by massed ranks of Pasdaran and police. Throughout the day chants against Khamanei, such as ‘this month is a month of blood!- Khamanei will be toppled’. A clear indication of how far the protest movement has come since June, not only is the regime fearful of a re-run of the election, but are now considerably worried that a revolution is underway. In Tehran clashes erupted at many religious sites as soon as people started to gather for the planned opposition protests. The fighting was intense, with security forces taking several defeats as demonstrators burnt police vehicles, stations, Basij posts and erected barricades. In a couple of instances police and Basij were arrested and detained by the people and three police stations in Tehran were briefly occupied by protestors.. Demonstrators also attacked the Saderat Bank in central Tehran, setting it on fire.
As the day wore on the security forces began to crack, the first division of the special forces refused orders to shoot protestors. There are many pictures and videos that show police retreating or being beaten back by protestors (some are in this report). There is also unconfirmed statements from sections of the army declaring that they will not be used to put down popular unrest. During the evening clashes erupted outside the IRIB headquarters with security forces firing tear gas and bullets into the crowds who responded with rocks and burning barricades. Later on there was fighting in and around Hospitals in central Tehran.
Following the protests several aides to opposition leaders have been arrested whilst injured protestors have been interviewed, beaten and arrested whilst in hospital, the many injured have had to endure interrogation with painful injuries. In response to this it has been reported that medical staff have been patching people up instead of admitting them to the already overcrowded wards. In many parts of Tehran residents opened their doors to the injured and exhausted demonstrators.
The Ashura protests saw a qualitative change in the protests, the people of Iran attacked and won street battles in Tehran, attacked a set fire to police stations and security forces vehicles, demonstrators arrested and detained many riot police and Basij throughout the day. Possibly more importantly the regime has undermined its own religious credibility by making martyrs on Ashura day. Neither side of the regime can now back down, and through this split the mass movement is breaking down the Islamic Republic. Many calls have come not just for the end of Khamanei’s rule, or Ahmadinejad’s government but for the end of the Islamic Republic itself. On the streets protestors have begun chanting ‘Independence, freedom, Iranian Republic’, a slogan which has been condemned by ‘reformist’ leader Mousavi as too radical. The Ashura protests have further underlined that the Islamic Republic is facing the greatest existential threat since its inception and the Iraq-Iran war.
Below are some videos of the protests:
Iranian demonstrations have given a real boost to working class opponents of the regime, writes Yassamine Mather
Every year November 4, the anniversary of the 1979 take-over of the US embassy in Tehran, is marked in Iran with a state-organised demonstration outside the building that used to house the American ambassador and his staff. On that date 30 years ago militant Islamic students stormed the embassy and took 71 hostages. Nineteen were released within weeks, but the remaining 52 were held for 444 days.
The ceremony commemorating the 30th anniversary of the ‘US hostage crisis’ was no different from recent years: a lacklustre ritual addressed by an insignificant minister. However, no-one in Iran will ever forget November 4 2009. It was the day when illegal demonstrations in at least six separate locations in Tehran and 20 cities and university campuses throughout the country overshadowed the state-organised event. As the national broadcasting service was showing live pictures of the gathering outside the former US embassy, shouts of “Death to the dictator” from protesters on neighbouring streets and squares were so loud that it was difficult to hear the minister’s speech. In Tehran the six locations were Enghelab Square, Ferdowsi, Haft Tir, Enghelab Square, Vali Asr and Vanak Square.
Revolutionary guards had issued stern warnings that they would not tolerate any protest demonstrations, and the night before dozens of political activists were arrested. On the morning of November 4 itself, government offices closed their doors at around 10am to stop employees leaving their workplace to join the protests. The ministry of the interior deployed special units of anti-riot police, many on motorbikes, as well as the religious bassij militia, to block main roads, intimidate potential demonstrators and attack any gathering. Yet despite all these measure, by all accounts – including admissions in the pro-Ahmadinejad press – tens of thousands of Iranians joined the protests against the regime.
Highly significant was the absence of any slogans regarding the rigged elections. Four months and 22 days after the June 2009 presidential poll, demonstrators in Iran have clearly moved on. Even the BBC Persian Service, that staunch defender of the ‘green movement’, had to admit in its broadcasts and analyses what most of the left has been saying for some time: as a result of the impasse within the factions of the Islamic regime the protests are no longer about the results of the presidential elections. Protesters are now challenging the very existence of that regime. ‘Reformist’ leaders are tailing the masses.1
The advice of their ‘leaders’ – most of whom, with the exception of presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, did not even dare show their face at the demonstrations – was totally ignored. Fellow ‘reformist’ candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi had spent the previous 10 days warning everyone against “radical” slogans that would only “benefit the enemy”. Yet demonstrators did the exact opposite.
Even the bourgeois media had to admit that the radicalisation of the demonstrations has marked a new phase in the life of the opposition. The main slogans that dominated the day were directed at the supreme leader himself: “Our guardian is a murderer [the supreme leader’s official religious title is ‘guardian of the nation’]. His rule is null and void” (Vali ma ghateleh velayatesh bateleh), plus the usual “Death to Khamenei, death to the Islamic republic”.
The crowds were also at odds with Moussavi over the nuclear issue. In late October he and Karroubi met to discuss the recent US-EU offer to Iran, and made it clear that they considered Ahmadinejad’s response to be a sell-out. Moussavi was quoted by his own website Kalameh as saying: “If the promises given are realised then the hard work of thousands of scientists would be ruined.” Yet for the first time in many years, it looked like the nationalist defenders of a nuclear Iran had no supporters amongst the protesters, whose slogans were very clear: “We don’t want reactors, we don’t want the atomic bomb.”
A week earlier, Moussavi, after a lot of dithering, had called on his supporters to back the November 4 demonstrations, yet on the day he failed to show up at any of the protests. His supporters claimed he was prevented from leaving a cultural centre by the security forces, but witnesses deny this. For all his faults, Karroubi, the 70-year-old cleric, showed more courage. He was prepared to join the demonstrations, even though one of his bodyguards was badly injured and ended up in hospital.
In another qualitative development angry demonstrators tore down posters of Khamenei and trampled all over them in what were unprecedented scenes. The man who is supposed to be god’s representative on earth (for Shia Muslims) was called a murderer and his image defiled by demonstrators wiping their feet on his posters.
Most of all, though, November 4 will be remembered as the day Iranians realised their strength and found the courage to stand up to the regime’s supporters and security forces. A number of bloggers have remarked on how government supporters leaving the official gathering hid memorabilia and photos of the supreme leader that had been dished out at that event when they saw the huge number of protesters in neighbouring streets.
There were many reports and films of the bassij and militia attacking protesters, especially women. However, there were also many incidents where demonstrators confronted those forces and actually got the better of them. In some incidents old women defended young protesters and shamed the security forces into retreating.
Some protesters have also taken up a new chant: “Obama, Obama – either you’re with them or you’re with us.” On the face of it, this does not sound like the most radical of slogans. However, this is a country obsessed with conspiracy theories regarding foreign interference and it was the first time since 1979 that Iranians have directed a slogan at the leader of the hegemon capitalist power in the face of such conspiracy theories. It should be noted that since Irangate2 no-one in Iran takes slogans like “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” shouted at official demonstrations seriously.
A number of foreign reporters were detained, most of whom have now been released, together with an Iranian journalist working for Agence France Presse. The stupid leaders of the regime had thought that by making such arrests they would stop the world hearing about the protests, but the reality is that now Iran has millions of reporters, with their text messages, emails and video footage captured on mobile phones. Perhaps the regime will consider banning all electronic equipment in their desperation to stop the ‘wrong’ news spreading.
The demonstrations have given a real boost to working class opponents of the regime. For the first time in many years they are finding allies in their struggle against the Islamic government. Sections of the left, including Rahe Kargar, have been talking of setting up neighbourhood resistance committees and clearly, given the vicious attacks by security forces on the growing opposition, such committees are necessary. For the first time in many years Iranians are discussing the need for the masses to be armed to confront the state security forces, while maintaining their opposition to ‘militarist’ tactics.
But the regime will not give up easily. More than 200 people were arrested in Tehran and the provinces on or around November 4, while a number of labour activists from the Haft Tapeh sugar cane company have been sent to prison for organising strikes. There are unconfirmed reports that despite many efforts to save the life of Kurdish leader Ehsan Fattahian, he was executed on November 11 in Sanandaj Central Prison. Ehsan’s 10-year prison sentence for membership of an illegal Kurdish organisation was recently changed to execution for no apparent reason.
Hundreds of protesters remain in prison and we must do all we can to support and defend them. Let us step up our solidarity with the working class and democratic opposition.
- See BBC Newsnight report, including interview with BBC Persian Service presenter: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPgi2LUNdqI
- See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran%E2%80%93Contra_affair for a summary of the ‘Iran Contra affair’, also known as ‘Irangate’.
From Weekly Worker 793
Ahmadinejad uses the ‘enemy without’ to justify increased repression, arrests and the torture of the ‘enemy within’, writes Yassamine Mather
The dramatic statements by Obama, Brown and Sarkozy about Iran’s undisclosed nuclear enrichment plant, made in a ‘breaking news’-style press conference on the first day of the G20 gathering in Pittsburgh, were clearly intended to prepare the world for a new conflict in the Middle East. The presentation of the ‘news’ and the language used in delivering the threats were reminiscent of the warnings about Iraq’s ‘45-minute’ strike capability.
According to Obama, “Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on October 1 they are going to have to come clean, and they will have to make a choice.” The alternative to sticking to ‘international rules’ on Iran’s nuclear development, would be “a path that is going to lead to confrontation”.
Yet in some ways the existence of a second uranium enrichment plant is old news. By all accounts US and UK secret services had known about this plant for at least three years – Israel and France also knew about it for some time and had delivered their finding to the International Atomic Energy Agency earlier this year. The ‘dramatic’ disclosures came at a time when Russia was already on board regarding further sanctions. Given its billion-dollar trade with Iran, China – one of Iran’s major commercial partners – is unlikely to change its opposition to further sanctions.
So what was the main purpose of the Obama-Sarkozy-Brown show on September 25? Could it be it was directed mainly to audiences in the US, UK and France, to convince them that, at a time of economic uncertainty, western leaders have to deal with a ‘major external threat’ posed by Iran’s nuclear development?
But the elephant in that press conference room was the Israeli nuclear programme. While Iran might be approaching nuclear military capability by 2010-15 (no-one is claiming it has such capability now), another ‘religious’ state in the Middle East is exempt from IAEA regulations and possesses between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads (this according to US estimates), yet it maintains a policy of ‘deliberate ambiguity’ on whether it has nuclear weapons.
Former IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei regarded Israel as a state possessing nuclear weapons, but there has been no IAEA inspection, hence the ambiguity over the number of warheads it possesses. Strictly speaking, as a beneficiary of the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II, Israel is not supposed to have any. Yet every year the US congress approves billions of dollars of US military aid to Israel. For the fiscal year 2010, Obama is requesting $2.775 billion.
The Symington and Glenn amendments to foreign aid law specifically prohibit US aid to nuclear states outside the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has signed the NPT. Israel has not.
Of course, none of this justifies the Iranian rulers’ obsession with reaching a stage where they can produce nuclear weapons. Unlike middle class nationalist Iranians, who even in their opposition to the regime, favour the government’s nuclear programme, the Iranian working class has been clear on this issue, as shown by placards on recent demonstrations: “We don’t want nuclear power – we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live – we don’t live to work.”
Millions of Iranian workers have not been paid for months, while capitalists and the religious government keep telling them of Iran’s economic crisis and shortfalls in both the state and private funds, yet the Islamic regime seems to have sufficient funds to equip one more nuclear enrichment plant, paying billions – presumably to dubious sources – for black market equipment. The current escalation of the conflict also exposes the stupidity of the Iranian rulers who only admitted to the existence of this ‘secret’ plant after its existence was ‘exposed’.
Of course, Iranians have become so used to hearing total lies from the leaders of all factions of the Islamic regime that the revelation of the existence of this facility, hidden not far from the capital, did not come as a surprise. After all, this is the same government that used Photoshop to pretend a failed rocket did succesfully launch, the same government that cheated in the presidential elections, then lied about the number of people killed in the subsequent protests, and the same government whose president claims to have seen a white light descending from another world while he was addressing the UN assembly in 2007.
Further sanctions will bring more poverty for Iranian workers and it will be the Iranian people who will pay the price for the foolishness of the very leaders they have been protesting against for over two months. The US is keen on sanctions against companies exporting refined oil to Iran (which imports 60% of its requirements). It now looks like France and Germany are sceptical about such sanctions. They refer to the Iraq experience and the ease with which petrol can be smuggled across land borders.
The Iranian government has already indicated that it will cut petrol subsidies. It is blaming the west and hopes such a move will unite the country against the ‘foreign enemy’. Contrary to the pessimism of sections of the Iranian left in exile who ‘despair’ of the growth of the ‘Green’ movement or who have joined the bandwagon behind ‘reformist’ presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi, workers in oil refineries in Iran are well aware of the historic role of their class in the current situation and there have been discussions regarding strikes in this industry for the last few weeks. These workers have two valid concerns: (1) that their strike should not benefit Moussavi (he is hated by these workers, some of whom remember his time in power); and (2) that their strike should not help US efforts for regime change from above.
Western countries are also considering options including an embargo on investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector, an end to loan guarantees to all companies investing in Iran, a ban on Iranian businesses trading in euros, and a ban on foreign companies insuring Iranian shipping and air transport. All of these measures will target the Iranian people, the majority of whom hate the clerical state.
If the Iranian government lied about its nuclear installations, Ahmadinejad’s speech last week at the UN was also full of deceit. His holocaust-denial comments, repeated in every interview he gave while in the US, were a deliberate attempt to divert attention from mass protests at home and to heighten the tension with the rest of the world. This regime and this president rely on foreign crises to survive – he desperately needs enemies abroad to divert attention from problems at home, and the Obama-Brown-Sarkozy trio gave him that.
However, his speech contained other lies. The man who has printed money in an attempt to solve Iran’s economic problems told the world: “It is no longer possible to inject thousands of billions of dollars of unreal wealth into the world economy simply by printing worthless paper assets, or transfer inflation as well as social and economic problems to others through creating severe budget deficits.” He also criticised “liberal capitalism” (as opposed to clerical capitalism?). After all, this is the president of a government that is busy privatising every industry in Iran, from services in the oil industry to car plants and Iran’s national telecommunications. The telecom company was privatised and sold to the ‘revolutionary guards’ in the last week of September, although Iran’s ‘monopoly regulatory commission’ is now said to be investigating this.
However, such actions by Iran’s Sepah Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) do not imply that the country is under military capitalist rule: they are controlled by the most conservative sections of Iran’s clerical elite. The Pasdaran ownership of the telecommunication services is only another success for supreme leader Ali Khamenei, his son and the clerics around him, as this ideological military force has no life and no significance without clerical rule.
The few delegates in the UN assembly hall who heard Ahmadinejad condemn the excesses of “liberal capitalism” might have thought Iran is an egalitarian religious society. Nothing could be further from reality. After 30 years in power Iran’s Islamic regime has created one of the most unequal, corrupt societies of the region, where the gap between the rich and the poor is amongst the highest in the world. As Ahmadinejad was speaking, Iran’s car workers (amongst the best paid sections of the working class) were protesting at long shifts causing ill health and workers throughout Iran were on strike or demonstrating against non-payment of wages. While factory closures due to privatisation continue, Aryaman Motors, a Tehran-based company specialising in reproducing classic cars, launched a new series of replica vehicles based on the original design of the earliest Rolls Royce models at $120,000 each – wealthy Iranians have already pre-paid for the first models that will be finished later this year.
In his speech Ahmadinejad also referred to the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, failing to mention Iran’s role in support of US aggression in both – as leaders of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran keep reminding us! The Iranian president then referred to breaches of human rights in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Of course, it is inevitable that abuse of human rights by the ‘torch holders’ of liberal democracy in the US and the UK will be used by every tinpot leader in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere to justify the torture and execution of opponents. The Iranian president is the leader of a government that has killed at least 72 civilians and tortured hundreds in the last two months alone, yet the actions of western governments allow him to stand up in New York and give moral lectures about ‘human right abuses’. We truly live in irrational times.
Protests and divisions
The first days of the new university term in Iran saw major protests on campuses throughout the country – the largest being at Tehran University on September 27-28. Students shouted “Death to the dictator” and booed the new minister of higher education. Security forces retreated from the campus. On Tuesday September 29 students protested at Sharif University, once more causing the minister for higher education to abandon plans to speak. Meanwhile, security forces are warning football crowds not to chant political slogans at the Tehran derby between Esteghlal and Persepolis on October 2.
As former president and leading ‘reformist’ Ali Akbar Rafsanjani continues his efforts to find a compromise between the regime’s warring factions, the first signs of a rift amongst ‘reformists’ has appeared. In an open letter addressed to Rafsanjani, another ‘reformist’ presidential candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, writes: “What is your answer to the people who, under dangerous conditions, question the actions of the Assembly of Experts under your leadership? … By what measure have you preserved the ideals of the revolution in your role as chair of the Assembly of Experts, whose first duty is fighting injustice?”
Moussavi’s latest statement on September 28 is also predictably uninspiring. Its repeated references to the “wisdom” of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, confirmed his continued allegiance to the ‘imam’s line’. But this will not gain him much support amongst young Iranians, who will not accept any solution short of the overthrow of the entire regime. Moussavi’s call on his supporters to “avoid any radical measures which could damage the achievements so far made by the opposition” expose once more his fear of radical change and his determination to save the religious state.
All this is very good news for the revolutionary forces. However, the threat of sanctions and war only strengthens Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. In the words of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, any “rush to punitive sanctions – tightened to the point where ordinary Iranians, already suffering the effects of chronic unemployment, had to endure petrol shortages or big fuel price hikes – could backfire spectacularly”.
Hands Off the People of Iran has always condemned sanctions and threats of war against Iran. We oppose them not only because we want to see imperialism defeated, but because they increase patriotism and nationalism, thus helping the reactionary regime. The government will use the ‘threat of the enemy without’ to increase repression, to arrest and torture its ‘enemy within’. Sanctions disorganise the working class, as people are forced to squander their fighting energies on day-to-day struggles to keep their jobs and feed their families – Iranian oil workers are right to be concerned about going on strike at a time when sanctions will also target ‘imported refined oil’.
The proposed US-European sanctions dramatically degrade the ability of the working people to struggle collectively on their own account, to organise and to fight. In other words, for the sake of Iranian working class we must continue our opposition to war, sanctions and regime change from above, while increasing our solidarity with the revolutionary movement inside Iran.
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