Tag Archives: Moussavi

‘Reformist’ confusion stunts opposition protests

Yassamine Mather reports on the February 11 Revolution Day celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘National unity’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crocodile tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

Show trials and apologetics

Protests still going strong

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

Moussavi to attend Friday prayers

From Reuters India:

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran’s opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi will attend Friday prayers this week in his first official public appearance since last month’s disputed election, a statement on his website said.

Mousavi’s statement, posted late on Wednesday, confirmed a media report earlier this week that he would attend the prayers at Tehran University to be led by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a rival of re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s main challenger in the June 12 presidential election, says the vote was rigged in the hardline incumbent’s favour.

The authorities reject charges of vote fraud, but the official election result sparked days of mass street protests by supporters of Mousavi and exposed deepening divisions within the Islamic Republic’s leadership.

“Since I regard as obligatory responding to the invitation of the sympathisers and supporters in the path of safeguarding legitimate rights of a free and honourable life, I will maintain a presence alongside you on Friday,” Mousavi said.

Mousavi’s website said he made the statement “in response to the public’s invitation for him to participate in Friday prayers in Tehran.” Friday prayers in Iran have the potential to reach a wide audience as they are broadcast live on radio.

On Tuesday, the Etemad newspaper said both Mousavi and reformist former president Mohammad Khatami, a supporter of his, would attend the prayers, which are broadcast live.

Iran’s most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, upheld Ahmadinejad’s landslide win in his Friday sermon one week after the vote.

But Mousavi, who was prime minister in the 1980s, has said Ahmadinejad’s next government would be “illegitimate”.

He has also called on authorities to release hundreds of people detained in the turbulent aftermath of the election, including leading reformists, journalists and rights lawyers.

Rafsanjani will lead the prayers after two months of absence. Some of his relatives, including his daughter Faezeh, were arrested briefly for taking part in pro-Mousavi rallies.

State media say at least 20 people were killed as protesters clashed with riot police and members of the Basij militia, but some rights activists believe the figure is higher.

The authorities and Mousavi blame each other for the bloodshed. Hardliners have called for Mousavi to be put on trial.

Iran has accused Britain and the United States, which have criticised a crackdown on opposition protests, of interfering in its internal affairs. London and Washington reject the charge.

Death in the Dorms: Saeed Kamali Dehghan

From Guardian Online

They came in the small hours, just as the dormitories were settling down for the night. Outside, Tehran was still in ferment, a city gripped by fury two days after a “stolen election”. Inside the dorms on Amirabad Street, students were trying to sleep, though nerves were jangling; just hours earlier several had been beaten in front of the main gate to the university.

What happened next developed into one of the seminal events of Iran‘s post-election unrest: police broke locks and then bones as they rampaged through the dormitories, attacked dozens of students, carted off more than 100 and killed five. The authorities still deny the incursion took place. But the account pieced together from interviews with five of those present tells a different story.

“We were getting ready to go to sleep when we suddenly heard them breaking the locks to enter our rooms,” said one of the 133 students arrested that night. “I’d seen them earlier beating students but I didn’t imagine that they would come inside. It’s even against Iranian law.”

Forty-six students from one dorm were arrested and taken to the basement of the interior ministry on nearby Fatemi Street. It was there, on the building’s upper floors, that the vote-counting and – claim opposition supporters – the rigging, was going on. Another 87 were taken to a security police building on Hafez Street. Students spoke of torture and mistreatment.

Five died: they were Fatemeh Barati, Kasra Sharafi, Mobina Ehterami, Kambiz Shoaee and Mohsen Imani – buried the following day in Tehran’s famous Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, reportedly without their families being informed. Their names were confirmed by Tahkim Vahdat, a student organisation.

Witnesses said the two women and three men were repeatedly beaten on the head with electric batons. Their families were warned not to talk about their children or hold funerals – like the parents of Neda Soltan, whose face became synonymous with the protest movement after she was filmed being shot dead in the street.

Under Iranian law, police, revolutionary guards and other militia are not allowed to enter universities – a legacy of the 1999 student riots. Until last month those riots were the most serious unrest the country had seen since the Islamic revolution.

But with the country convulsed by protests at the 12 June elections, there was no holding back that Sunday night. “The police threw teargas into the dorms, beat us, broke the windows and forced us to lie on the ground,” one student recalled. “I had not even been protesting but one of them jumped on me, sat on my back and beat me. And then, while pretending to search me for guns or knives, he abused me sexually. They were threatening to hang us and rape us.”

Another described the scene: “The riot police stood in two lines, formed a tunnel with their shields as its roof, and made us run through it again and again while beating us and banging on their shields. “One of my roommates had a broken leg but they still made him run.”

Others spoke of similar experiences at the hands of the Basij (paramilitary militia). “The Basiji was on my back and told me: ‘I have not fucked anyone for the past seven years, you cute boy! I’ll show you what I can do to you when we arrive.’ They were harassing us and claiming we insulted them or the supreme leader.”

Before being taken away on a bus the students were made to stand in front of a dormitory block with plastic bags over their heads, their hands bound with plastic ties – known there as “Israeli handcuffs”.

“I had a second to recognise that it was the main building of the interior ministry in Fatemi Street,” said another student, weeping. “I just couldn’t believe it, there were senior politicians, members of parliament and investigators on the upper floors and we were in the basement. I have no doubt that they were busy rigging the votes upstairs.”

One detainee was abused by guards after he lost control of his bladder. Hours later they were given bread and cheese that had been placed on a dirty floor and warned they would be punished if they refused to eat. A Basiji called Ali filmed them with his mobile phone, ordering the captives to say “I am a donkey”.

Injuries were ignored. One student who had lost an eye after being hit by a plastic bullet was not given medical attention. “We were begging them to transfer these two who were suffering more than others to the hospital but they just said ‘let them die’,” a witness said.

Later, gas was pumped into the cells when all the students were being held in the security police building. Their ordeal ended 24 hours later when the president of Tehran University, Farhad Rahbar, and Alireza Zakani, a Tehran MP, spoke to the detainees. Rahbar told them that he had given the police permission to enter the dormitories to control the situation – but denied it a few days later.

Before being released the students were ordered to put on fresh clothes supplied by the police. “They didn’t want there to be any evidence of what had happened,” one of them said. “But what’s stronger than 133 students who were there, who saw everything, and suffered?”

Iran: their solidarity and ours

Yassamine Mather examines a regime in crisis and looks to working class forces for a solution

The continuation of demonstrations and protests against the Islamic republic of Iran, albeit on a smaller scale than two weeks ago, have fuelled further divisions at every level of the religious state: the Shia scholars of Ghom oppose the clerics in the Council of Guardians; leaders of the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) are arrested for siding with the ‘reformist camp’; senior ayatollahs are divided, with Ali Saneii and Ali Montazeri declaring the election results fraudulent, while most other grand ayatollahs have remained loyal to the supreme leader.

oursolidarityNearly a month after the elections, the political crisis in Iran still dominates events in the Middle East, while in the country itself most people, irrespective of their political allegiance, agree that the situation has changed so dramatically over the last few weeks that nothing in the Islamic republic will ever be the same again.

With the exception of isolated believers in conspiracy theories, no-one doubts that the Iranian people have expressed loud and clear their desire for an end to the current political system and – in view of the fact that the ‘reformists’ keep wasting valuable time, still expecting miracles from above – it is the entire Islamic order, not just the conservatives, whose future is called into question.

Let us be clear: most Iranians do not believe a word of government claims that the protests were organised from outside Iran. As far as they are concerned, this crisis has all the hallmarks of one made in the Islamic republic. The regime has relied on crisis after crisis to survive over the last 30 years, constantly using real and imaginary foreign threats as an excuse for failure to deliver on any of its promises of equality and prosperity for the masses. A victory for Mir-Hossein Moussavi, coinciding with a new administration in the US, carried the ‘danger’ of reducing, albeit temporarily, tensions with America, thus depriving the Islamic regime of its convenient external scapegoat. That could not be allowed to happen.

The supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, admits he favoured Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and clearly as early as this spring, before the ‘selection’ of the final candidates, plans for an Ahmadinejad victory were in the pipeline. Our arrogant supreme leader could not resist the temptation of a premature announcement. From April he used a number of public occasions to declare his wish for, and confidence in, four more years of an Ahmadinejad presidency. Presumably this is when plans for the stuffing of ballot boxes were organised – boxes that were still being discovered in the corridors and libraries of the ministry of the interior last week.

However, at a time of conflict over the country’s nuclear programme, Iran’s rulers needed to demonstrate their legitimacy to the ‘international community’. Ignoring the level of dissatisfaction and opposition that existed in the country, once the number of candidates was reduced to four members of the inner circles of the religious state’s factions, an election show beyond anything seen in the last 30 years was sanctioned. The press and the media of the reformist faction were given a short-lived relative freedom. Within the framework of the existing order, all four candidates were allowed to expose the shortcomings of their opponents.

Corruption, incompetence, lies and deceit came out into the open, and even Ahmadinejad, certain of Khamenei’s backing, went beyond the normal red lines of the Shia state. But the elite of the Islamic republic, in both factions, underestimated the level of hatred and anger towards the regime amongst the young, who make up over 70% of the population. An Iranian sociologist, speaking from Tehran, compared this anger to a glass of water getting fuller and fuller: “We all failed to notice it, until the last drop – but then the election process caused it to overflow.”

Most Iranians were already familiar with the huge wealth, accumulated through corruption, of Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, former president and current chairman of the Assembly of Experts. It was the foreign account of Khamenei’s close relatives (including his son, whose personal account of £1.6 billion has been frozen in London) and the charts showing the position of Ahmadinejad’s relatives in the most important financial posts that deprived the conservative front runner of any credibility. Looking back at the turbulent election period, clearly workers’ organisations and Marxist groups who advocated a boycott, at a time of mass hysteria around Moussavi’s candidacy, were right to do so.

It is obvious that Khamenei, surrounded as he is by subservient advisers, underestimated the fury that followed the dashing of hopes – otherwise he might have chosen a more modest percentage for the Ahmadinejad ‘victory’. But in order to establish Ahmadinejad as the truly legitimate leader of the Iranian people, Khamenei needed a higher vote than the 20 million claimed by Khatami in 1997.

Looking back at the election, it is possible that the Islamic order could have been saved had the regime decided to pull an Ahmadinejad victory with a smaller margin or even in the second round. Alternatively, a Moussavi presidency, despite the problems posed by his exaggerated promises of personal freedom within the religious state, would undoubtedly have lengthened the life of the Islamic regime by a few years, until yet another generation of Iranian youth, fooled by promises of reform, witnessed the ineptitude and unwillingness to change of our modernist Islamists. Once the results were announced, however, it soon became clear that Moussavi is a weak character – and his popularity continues to plummet, as he struggles to tail the mass movement.
Working class

According to reports from Iran, on June 13, as the Moussavi camp dithered, it was students and activists of the left who first took to the streets of Tehran in the initial protests. They were joined by demonstrators from working class districts of Tehran who hate Ahmadinejad.

In the words of a leaflet by Iran Khodro workers, his “exhibitionist distribution of cash in the poor districts of major cities is an insult to the Iranian working class”. Oil workers in Tehran state that Iranian workers, whose strikes in 1979 brought down the shah, do not want charity and remind us of their demands over the last four years: the abolition of ‘white’ (temporary) contracts, an end to mass unemployment and low wages, the prompt payment of wages, better housing – the real grievances of the poor and the working class. Workers in Iran are well aware that Ahmadinejad’s government cannot and will not respond to such demands – it is still seeking to maintain its position as the IMF’s model for the implementation of neoliberal economic policies.

Iran Khodro workers warn of the disastrous consequences of printing money during hyperinflation and compare Ahmadinejad’s economic policies with those of Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Addressing fellow workers, they say: “It is the Iranian working class who will pay for Ahmadinejad’s mad economic policies.”

In fact right from the beginning it has been workers, unemployed youth and students – who have suffered under four years of military presence on campuses – who have been in the forefront of the protests. Young women in particular hate the regime for its constant interference in their daily lives. They are the ones whose early presence on the streets of Tehran on June 15 encouraged hundreds of thousands of people – including, yes, people from Tehran’s middle class districts – to join the protests, which prompted Moussavi to attend the demonstration himself late in the afternoon. They are the ones who are continuing the protests even as the repression intensifies. In the absence of any clear direction from Moussavi or fellow reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi, these are the forces that have called for demonstrations on July 9, the anniversary of the student protests of 1998.

No-one can doubt the significance of June 15. For years Iranians had felt isolated, demoralised and fearful of the regime. On that Monday, according to Tehran’s mayor, around three million people were on the streets of the capital. In Isfahan, the historic Shah Jahan square – one of the largest open squares in the world – was jammed with protesters. Shiraz and Tabriz saw similarly huge demonstrations. The Iranian people had finally spoken and the solidarity they found in those protests has given them unprecedented confidence and the sense of victory.

As in 1979, it is this confidence that encourages them to confront the most brutal forms of repression with courage and determination. Unarmed demon-strators confront the Bassij, apparently with no fear for their lives, and those who claim that such courage and determination are a feature of the middle classes have no understanding of the realities of Iranian society. Last week during a protest in a shanty town near Tehran, where the regular battles of those living beyond the official Tehran border with the authorities has resulted in the deployment of the Bassij (the hated Islamic militia used against protesters), the crowd shouted “Death to the dictator”, attacked the Bassij and succeeded in forcing them to retreat, leaving behind their motorcycles.

In working class districts of Tehran, groups of people have been throwing paint on photos of the supreme leader, writing slogans under his portraits and using every opportunity to taunt the religious militia with slogans such as ‘Death to Khamenei’ and the rhyming chant, “Rahbar ma ola-gheh – ye dastesham cholagheh” (“Our supreme leader is an ass – one of his arms is paralysed”). Iran’s state television is also under attack after broadcasting the ‘confessions’ of young demonstrators, who, bruised and exhausted, are shown on TV admitting they are ‘agents of foreign powers’.

If the middle class districts of Tehran have been quiet during the day (at night people do go on rooftops throughout the city), the working class districts – in the factories, mines and shanty towns – have been the scene of impromptu protests. On July 1 thousands of workers in a mine in Khouzestan province started a strike and when security forces arrived to disperse a sit-in, the workers shouted “Death to the dictator”. Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers restarted their strike on Sunday July 5, accusing the authorities of failing to deal with their previous demands.

Discussions about a general strike are continuing and last week after almost three weeks of organising demonstrations, an organisation calling itself the Workers’ Committee in Defence of Mass Protests issued a number of statements regarding the organisation of demonstrations – security measures that should be taken, advice on what to do if the Bassij attack, as well as detailed suggestions regarding civil disobedience.
Debacle

With every day that passes the two reformist candidates are losing support. Having spent two weeks hoping for a breakthrough with the cleric-led Guardian Council, Karroubi, Moussavi and finally former reformist president Mohammad Khatami issued statements calling the election results, together with the new government, illegitimate. However, ordinary Iranians are furious at Moussavi’s reference to the current debacle as an argument “within the Islamic family”, while the reformists’ ally in the Council of Experts, ayatollah Rafsanjani was seeking the vote of enough ‘councillors’ in order to demote, or at least put pressure on, the supreme leader.

As always, the reformists are aware that their destiny is tied to the that of the regime, yet by seeking solutions within the ruling circles, while promising the impossible to the crowds in the street, they are digging their own graves. They know they only gained support in June 2009 because many Iranians decided to opt for the lesser of two evils. Once the clerical regime denied this limited opportunity and slammed the door, the days of support for Moussavi and Karroubi were numbered. However, no-one should underestimate the effect this unprecedented schism at the highest level of the Islamic regime will have.

The Islamic republic is a complicated beast. Power lies in a twisted web of clerical, executive, judicial and military circles: the Guardian Council, the Council of Experts, the majles (Islamic parliament), Council for the Safeguarding of National Interests, the government led by the president, civil, criminal and ‘revolutionary’ (political) courts, the army/Pasdaran, Bassij, various Islamic associations (some calling themselves parties) …

Until now all of these forces, whatever their differences and factional allegiances, ended up obeying the supreme leader. In fact throughout the last 30 years the most important role played by both Khomeini and Khamenei, as vali faghih (supreme leader), was as an arbiter of power between the various factions. All this came to an end on June 19, when Khamenei declared the presidential voting results accurate and sided with Ahmadinejad. It is therefore correct, as Hamid Dabashi does in the Cairo weekly, Al Ahram, to identify the supreme leader as the principal loser in the current situation (June 25-July 1).

The second loser is Ahmadinejad – the incompetent racist who in the 1980s was an interrogator in Evin prison, often leading the post-torture questioning of leftwing activists, and who is in his element as the loyal servant of the supreme cleric.

The reformists are also losers in this process – every day that goes by, their support continues to drop. They are caught in a corner, trying to save an Islamic order that is not prepared to compromise even with them.

But there are winners too – the peoples of Iran, the demonstrators, those who risk their lives every day against the regime and its military might. The repression is severe, brutal and unlike anything seen since the 1980s. However, this only shows the desperation of the regime. The demonstrators are winning.

The creative way in which they have used every opportunity to voice their hatred of the current regime has given them hope and confidence, which makes it certain that the current conflict will not end until the regime is overthrown. It has made too many enemies, especially amongst the youth and the poor, for anyone to be able to contemplate its survival.

In the forefront of those who have defied fear and repression to go onto the streets of Tehran are women (many of them under 30) who will never forget how Pasdars arrested them for showing a fringe of hair and how they were subsequently flogged (in many cases 60-80 lashes) for this ‘crime’. Young men and women who over the last decades have been arrested, humiliated and imprisoned not just for expressing political opinions, but in hundreds of thousands of cases for failing to adhere to strict interpretations of Islamic dress or behavioural codes.

Students who are tired of the interference of the state in every aspect of their private and public lives; workers who have faced poverty, non-payment of wages; shantytown dwellers who are in daily conflict with the authorities over lack of water or electricity; relatives of those killed by the regime, and not just in recent protests, when at least 100 people have lost their lives, but also of those executed by the regime for their political beliefs in 1979, the 1980s and 90s (and let us not forget that the executioners of Iran’s political prisoners belong to both the ‘reformist’ and the conservative camp): none of them will forgive or forget the criminals responsible.

In the last few days parents of those arrested in recent demonstrations have been gathering every lunchtime outside Iranian prisons, demanding the release of the prisoners and justice for those killed by the Bassij. Too many people in Iran find another four years of Ahmadinejad too awful to contemplate – they will not stop their protests, with or without Moussavi and Karroubi.
Solidarity

The Islamic regime had the chance to entice people with promises of a slightly less repressive order under a Moussavi presidency, but blew it. However, faced with severe repression at home and the continued threat of military attack (a second Israeli nuclear submarine is now getting close to the Persian Gulf), the one kind of ‘solidarity’ the people of Iran do not need is the one offered by the imperialist states and their ‘regime change’ associates in Iran. The enemies of the Iranian working class – in the Moussavi camp, amongst royalists or within the confused left – will seek support from European states, the US administration, rightwing trade unions, liberal NGOs, media personalities … while the defenders of the Iranian working class will remain vigilant in choosing our allies.

In Hands Off the People of Iran we have maintained our consistent, principled, anti-imperialist, anti-regime stance, and we are in an excellent position to build a much larger campaign in support of the struggles of the Iranian people. In doing so we welcome the cooperation of all Iranian and international forces that share our principles. But let me be clear – we cannot unite with supporters of Moussavi or those who seek war or sanctions instead of, or as a short cut to, revolutionary change from below. We will not suspend our criticisms of those prepared to tolerate imperialist war or economic sanctions – measures that will harm Iranian workers first and foremost.

There are calls for political sanctions against Iran now being proposed by liberals such as Shirin Ebadi and by two of the three splinters from the Worker-communist Party of Iran.

It is not our business to advise Washington or London what measures they ought to take against Tehran – quite the opposite. We say they should stop interfering in Iran. Instead we seek solidarity from below – amongst workers, trade unionists and anti-capitalist forces – with the struggles of the Iranian people. That is the essence of our politics and we will not be diverted from it.

Beyond Moussavi: The Movement of the Iranian Masses

An article by Hopi Steering Committee Member David Broder on the Commune website:

While in the last two years there were strikes on the Tehran bus network and in isolated factories, as well as illegal student protests thousands strong, the post-election demonstrations were by far the greatest challenge to the authority of the Ayatollahs’ regime since it was established in 1979.

Whether or not it was the intention of defeated reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the only “outs”  for the regime’s hierarchy when he continued to encourage protests were either total capitulation or  to crack down hard in order to defend the very survival of the institutions of the Islamic Republic. Even though Mousavi is himself no radical, the very fact that he maintained his dissent after the Supreme Leader had approved the election of Ahmedinejad necessarily meant the assertion of some elementary democratic principles as against the values of the current regime.

This despite the fact that, as Ayatollah Khamenei remarked in a speech demanding an end to protests, everyone who voted had in fact voted for a variant of theocracy: since the candidates were vetted by the religious leadership and so it was impossible to vote against the regime as such.

Indeed, Mousavi was himself the Prime Minister of Iran from 1981 to 1989, presiding over the Iran-Iraq war as well as the butchering of many thousands of leftists as the Islamists cracked down on the workers’ movement which had played a central role in the overthrow of the Shah and so posed an unwelcome threat to the Ayatollahs’ monopoly of power. No democrat, Mousavi has been idolised in mainstream Western media as a liberal challenger to the existing order: but the real challenge emerges not from this particular individual, who many who usually boycott polls turned out for and who has a rather ‘light’ personal control over his supporters, but from the resistance of the masses themselves.

Of course, we have to be realistic in our assessment of this movement’s real potential, and it is easy to be carried away by Western media exaggerating the support for pro-Western liberals as well as our own understandable enthusiasm for the mass movement. In fact it is politically very diverse (and with diffuse goals) and not particularly proletarian in make-up, which threatens both its chances of succeeding and the hope that it might do something rather more worthwhile than change the suit in charge of the slaughterhouse.

These questions are important for the anti-war movement, and although Stalinist groups backed Ahmedinejad, some leftists’ attitudes have been shaken up by the need to say something positive about a movement which most people in Britain would sympathise with. Although Hugo Chávez had congratulated Ahmedinejad on his ‘victory’, his British allies Socialist Appeal saw mirages of working-class revolution on the streets of Tehran.

The SWP were also in a pickle. For twenty years they have supported the “anti-imperialism” of the regime, saying it was not appropriate for the Stop the War Coalition to support movements inside Iran, and tried to silence the anti-war, anti-regime Hands Off the People of Iran campaign. This time round Socialist Worker celebrated “people power” in a remarkable change of tack. (They have performed a similar 180-degree turn over the Lindsey workers, many of whom in fact have the same politics and slogans as in their January strikes when the SWP condemned them).

The extent to which the anti-war movement in Britain continues to ignore oppositionists in Iran still hangs in the balance, however. It was always of course right to resolutely oppose Western intervention (any war or ‘surgical strike’ would have made the current movement unthinkable), but real solidarity with the Iranians themselves always has to include supporting struggles within that country against the regime.

As it is, the people demonstrating in recent weeks appear to have been beaten down by the state machine including its Basiji (religious militia). Nevertheless, the movement may resurface or express itself in different ways as it looks increasingly unlikely that Mousavi will come to power.

Indeed, whilst many observers have compared the Iranian regime’s crackdown to Tiananmen Square-style methods of breaking opposition, few make the point that the Iranian regime seems much less able than China in 1989 to work its way towards a liveable economic position. This presents dangers for the regime both from technocrats and army men who think it is incompetent, and from the people on the receiving end of the economic disaster.

The underlying social crisis in Iran will continue even if the religious hierarchy is able to put a lid on the current wave of resistance. New battles over unpaid wages and rampant inflation, as well as the terrible lack of personal and democratic freedoms (particularly for women and LGBT people), will go on. As such our solidarity with the Iranian working class and its struggles must continue even once Mousavi’s fans at BBC and CNN have turned their attention elsewhere.