The saltwater Lake Urmia in the Azerbaijan region of Iran is rapidly drying out as a result of bridge construction and ecological factors. But the Iranian government has repeatedly rejected proposals to stop the Lake disappearing.
Tens of thousands of people defied a ban by the Islamic regime and protested on the streets of Iran on February 14 2011. The Iranian people are protesting in solidarity with the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt – now they want their own dictator and the whole regime to go.
Some films we have been sent by comrades in Iran:
Statement of a group of Iran Khodro workers
January 26 2011
The statement below has been translated and distributed by Hands Off the People of Iran. It is from a group of workers in Iran Khodro, Iran’s main car manufacturer. They report a major accident which took place during night shift on January 25 in one of the plant’s manufacturing sections. Four workers died and 13 were injured. A worker who was ill and tired after repeated shifts had been forced to come to work. The truck he was driving ran into a crowd of workers in the transport section of the plant.
This sparked all the workers in every sections of the plant to stop work and protest against the Herassat (factory security). Rattled managers tried to remove the bodies from the factory, but angry workers stopped them. They got hold of the body of one of their dead colleagues and carried him around the plant shouting ‘death to Najmodin’ (Iran Khodro’s CEO).
A large spontaneous demonstration took place outside the factory and workers were involved in scuffles with the Herassat and revolutionary guards.
The incident underlines the instability of the Iranian regime and simmering anger of those below. They need our solidarity and renewed determination to fight any imperialist intervention against their country: they themselves must settle accounts with the classes that oppress them.
At 11.30 pm on the January 15 2011 a Benz compressor lorry containing a load from one of the company’s contractors entered gate 9 of Iran Khodro’s transport section. Its breaks failed and it plowed into a group of workers. Four of them, our colleagues, were killed. Thirteen others were injured.
Workers are compelled to work public holidays in Iran (such as January 15) to earn a basic wage adequate to feed themselves and their families. Then, just as they prepare to go home, they faces death and injury.
In protest, a large number of workers gathered outside the management’s office and stayed until dawn. That was all they could do. This was shocking, a lorry driving straight into a crowd. Then the management blamed another worker, the easiest thing to do. No one asked why the lorry was in that place at that time. Where was ‘Herassat’ (factory security)? After all they control every movement of the workforce.
Immediately after the incident, tens of special forces security guards arrived at the factory – not to save workers lives but simply to protect the interests of the managers. We express our condolences to the families of our fellow workers and we share their sorrow. We declare Wednesday, January 26 2011 a day of national mourning – we will stop working to mark it. We will not return to work until those responsible for the death of our fellow workers are identified.
This is not the first time that the workers in Iran Khodro have lost their lives at work. Many of our colleagues have died during working hours in this plant. From the death of Peyman Razilou to a number of other deaths caused by over-work. Yet no one is taking responsibility for these deaths.
Now management is attempting to shift blame for the deaths from itself onto a worker’s ‘careless driving’. But we know that the interests of the company, their drive to increase profits at all costs, are the main reasons behind these and other deaths at Iran Khodro. Why should workers be forced to work on a public holiday without adequate breaks? Why should they be worked to the point of exhaustion by the end of their shift? Why should a lorry carrying tons of cargo pass along a road where workers walk at the end of their shift? Billions of tomans [Official Iranian currency] have been spent on the Iran Khodro firm’s Herassat (factory security) to control and suppress the workers. So why can’t a simple task like coordinating traffic so that the movement of huge lorries does not coincide with the end of a workers’ shift be organised?
Every day we see the absence of safety measures throughout the plant. Workers have often asked that traffic should be stopped when they have to use the main path at the start and end of shifts, but who has listened to these calls? What drives management and their public relations department is profit.
It was obvious that workers walking at night on a road (inside the factory, with no pavement) were putting their lives in danger. We protested about this on many occasions. Management promised to build a foot path on many occasions. Nothing was done. Management’s servile attitude to the interests of capital means they pay no attention to us; our lives mean nothing to these people.
When the anti-working class policy of cutting subsidies was announced, the Iran Khodro management announced that it would cut the price of its products. They made no complaint about anti-human policy of ending subsidies; nor did they didn’t indicate how they would achieve the reduction in their prices. It soon became clear, however – less pay for the workers and an increase in the intensity of their work, even at the cost of their lives.
Four innocent workers have died. Who cares? Four workers died in a work accident on almost the same day a few years ago in KhatounAbad. No one was held responsible. Tens of workers have died in Iran Khodro. No one takes responsibility.
Every day, throughout the world, workers die during working hours but the capitalists and their supporters couldn’t care less.
Death is death whether it is in prison, by execution or in an accident. But this death seems to be always the plight of workers and toilers.
How long do we have to tolerate this situation? Until we workers become conscious and take control of our destiny this situation will continue.
We Iran Khodro workers demand immediate punishment of those responsible for the death of our fellow workers. The murderers are no one else but the factory management (defenders of capitalists’ interests) and their public relations office.
Translated by Hands Off the People of Iran
Yassamine Mather exposes the concerted efforts of the Islamic regime against Iranian women
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the 43 year old mother of two who awaits the death penalty by stoning in Iran on adultery charges brought by the sharia court in Azerbaijan province, is on the cover of many western newspapers and the subject of news broadcasts in Europe and the US. Last Sunday, protesters, including philosophers and singers, were among those taking part in a demonstration in Paris in solidarity with Mrs Ashtiani, while similar protests took place in cities throughout the world.
One of her lawyers has been forced to leave Iran, seeking political asylum in Scandinavia. European ministers, presidents and MPs are defending her right to live, yet in her home town of Tabriz very few seem to be aware of her plight. The local media has not mentioned her case except as a small column in the ‘accidents’ pages, official Iranian TV channels do not cover her story and, arriving in New York this week, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed: “reports of a woman being sentenced to killing by stoning in Iran were fabricated, made up and part of Western propaganda.”. All this after many official statements by Iran’s foreign ministry that the stoning of Mrs Ashtiani will be reviewed!.
It appears that her sentence, like the exaggerated claims about Iran’s nuclear and military capabilities, or the spying case against the three hikers (one of whom was released on the eve of Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York), are for foreign consumption. At times it looks as if the Islamic regime and its president are determined to attract publicity even if it is negative publicity. Of course, it is ordinary Iranians who pay the price of this adventurism.
Sakineh Ashtiani was first tried on May 15 2006 by a court in Tabriz, and pleaded guilty to an “illicit relationship”, although the so-called adultery occurred after the death of her husband. She was sentenced to 99 lashes, and the sentence was carried out that year. In September 2006, her case was re-opened when another court was prosecuting one of the two men involved in the death of her husband. She was then convicted of adultery while still married, and sentenced to death by stoning. She later retracted her confession. The case was held in Persian; though she only speaks Azeri.
Every time the Islamic regime faced a political crisis, a new crime was added to Sakineh’s case; and now, as Ahmadinejad embarks on a wave of media interviews in the US, we are suddenly told there is no ‘stoning’ case. Those people in Iran who know about her plight agree she is the victim of a cynical ploy by Ahmadinejad and his supporters to deliberately attract international condemnations – part of a strategy to divert attention from internal economic and political problems.
No one should be in any doubt about the concerted efforts of the Islamic regime against Iranian women, however. Hardliners are trying to reintroduce a family-law bill that is recognised as discriminatory against women not only by moderates but also by some staunch conservatives. For example, one article of the bill provides men with the right to marry a second wife without consent from the first.
As predicted, once the reformist faction was marginalised in terms of government executive power, conflict between Ahmadinejad’s government and the parliament, or majlis, deepened. The main parliamentary group, known as the principlist faction, is headed by the speaker, Ali Ardashir Larijani. The conflict has paralysed the state, with Ahmadinejad angrily withdrawing a number of bills presented by his government, claiming that they had been changed beyond recognition as they passed through various majlis committees. The government has stopped sending its decisions to lawmakers for confirmation, and it routinely fails to implement laws adopted by parliament.
In the last few weeks, another faction – the ‘pragmatists’ led by former Islamic revolutionary guard corps (IRGC) commander Mohsen Rezai – has also been critical of the government.
The ideological battles between Ahmadinejad and the conservatives has entered a new phase. He is constantly attacked for controversial statements made by his self appointed chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. In a complete departure from all the ‘principles’ of the Islamic regime, on August 4 Mashaei told a gathering of Iranian expatriates that “the country should introduce the ideology of Iran, rather than Islam, to the world … Islam would be lost if it weren’t for Iran”. And, a week later: “… if we want to present the truth embodied in Islam, we must fly the flag of Iran.” His remarks were attacked as heresy by conservative clerics who accused Ahmadinejad and Mashaei of advocating nationalism and secularism.
In early September, Ahmadinejad and Mashaei presided over the opening of the Cyrus ‘human rights’ cylinder exhibition. The cylinder was transferred to Iran from the British Museum in early September and will be on display for four months. Some regard it as the world’s first declaration of human rights, and a symbol of tolerance and respect for different peoples and faiths made under the orders of Cyrus II, founder of the Persian empire under the Achaemenid dynasty, in 539 BCE following the conquest of Babylon.
Herodotus and Aeschylus – Greeks who lived after Cyrus – praised him and called him merciful. The Bible describes him as the “anointed one”, because he allowed exiled Jews to return to Israel. However, modern historians doubt this flattering version of events. According Josef Wiesehöfer, professor of ancient history at the university of Kiel, in Germany, Cyrus attained his goals with “carrots and sticks”, but in truth, he was a violent ruler like all others.
Inside Iran this sudden obsession with ‘old Persia’ has been reminiscent of the last days of the shah. His lavish celebrations of 2,500 years of Iranian monarchy at the palace of Persepolis, and the reciting of Cyrus’s charter marked the beginning of the end of his rule. So Iranians of a variety of political persuasions are not impressed by Ahmadinejad calling Cyrus a ‘major prophet’ and draping a basij scarf around the shoulders of a man dressed as an Achaemenid soldier at Iran’s national museum during the inauguration of the Cyrus cylinder. All this has led to a new title for Ahmadinejad supporters: Archemedis Bassiji.
During the last few weeks Ahmadinejad has made a number of new appointments: Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as his special envoy to the Middle East; Hamid Baghei, head of Iran’s cultural heritage foundation, as special envoy for Asian affairs; deputy foreign minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh has been named Iran’s envoy on Caspian affairs; and Abolfazl Zohrevand, deputy head of Iran’s supreme national security council, is now the president’s envoy to Afghanistan. None of these appointments were approved by the supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamenei, who decides foreign policy issues; and, of course, they are a challenge to the dominant conservative factions of the majlis as well as a blow to Iran’s foreign ministry and foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaki, who is considered a pragmatist, and whom many believed was the supreme leader’s appointee in the government following the disputed 2009 presidential elections.
On September 7, 122 MPs in Iran’s 290-seat majlis called Ahmadinejad’s move “illegal”, and the supreme leader warned against duplication of foreign policy roles, reasserting his support for foreign ministry officials.
Mashaei has established his own news agency, Mashanews, which is campaigning for an Iran without clerics (presumably with military nationalists in power?): “Iran needs someone like Mashaei to get rid of mullahs once and for all in Iran and bring back the great civilization of Iran minus the Arab mullahs who have polluted and destroyed Iran for the past 31 years.” Almost word for word what royalists and ultra-nationalist Iranians have been saying.
The Islamic reformist reaction came from ex-president Seyed Mohammad Khatami: “I don’t want to speak about individuals. I believe that the clergy has played an important role in the regime. The thesis ‘Islam minus the clergy’ is fundamentally senseless, just like medicine without doctors, and has imperialist roots. Its goal is to marginalize the clergy from the arena and to give room to those who have deviated and have fundamental problems with the Islamic revolution and the regime. Therefore, this movement will not find a path among the devout and the principlist.”
So here we are – Ahmadinejad and royalists on one side, Khatami, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karoubi on the opposite side. Iran’s supreme leader has a difficult choice to make; his balancing act between the warring factions of the regime cannot last long and everyone inside and outside Iran is well aware of this.
The economy is in ruins. Sanctions are taking their toll and the government is paralysed. Sanctions on the banking and finance sector started three years ago; however it is only in the last few months that the new round of tougher sanctions and investment conditions has created problems for ordinary Iranians. Morteza Massoumzadeh of the Iranian business council in Dubai explains: “During this period we have seen the volume of economic activity in some cases drop by more than 50%”. New sanctions will make Iranian foreign exchange trade more difficult.
Economist Bijan Bidabadi told the BBC that sanctions on banking has put pressure on the economy. Some private banks have tried to substitute for banks listed in the sanctions bill, but their resources are too limited to cope with the country’s trade dealings.
Many importers and exporters are using loans to pay for transportation, others are entering deals without formal invoices and this will affect the economy. As greed, lack of spare parts (due to sanctions) and corruption continue to destroy manufacturing, including food production and agriculture, most of the country’s basic necessities are imported at colossal prices. Iranians are complaining that the price of most basic food items in major cities is more than the price of the same item in Europe. Most people, even amongst the professional classes, cannot afford to buy meat.
Last week ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the clerical assembly of experts, told the annual gathering of the assembly that Iran would become a “dictatorship” unless current policies are reversed. He revealed the true extent of the sanctions:
“We have never been faced with so many sanctions … I would like to ask you and all the country’s officials to take the sanctions seriously and not as a joke.”
The remarks were aimed at Ahmadinejad, who has brushed away concerns about sanctions, calling them “pathetic” and less effective than “a used handkerchief”.
Disputes within the many factions of the Islamic regime have paralysed the functioning of the state. It is no wonder ‘regime change from above’ is once more openly discussed by the US administration, while Israel and ‘hawks’ in the US Republican Party are once more calling for direct military action. On August 17 John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations told Fox news that “Israel has until the weekend to launch a military strike on Iran’s first nuclear plant before the humanitarian risk of an attack becomes too great”. Bolton was referring to the fact that on August 22 a Russian company was expected to help Iran start loading nuclear fuel into the Bushehr reactor. Contrary to all Barack Obama’s election claims, many of this summer’s statements regarding Iran’s nuclear programme and the need for regime change, as well as the dramatic escalation in the levels of sanctions imposed on the country, remind us of the Bush administration’s obsession with regime change in Iraq.
Let us be clear; Iran it is not an anti-imperialist state; its economy is that of a capitalist dictatorship; its foreign policy is limited to irrational, reactionary anti-Western rhetoric; and, given serious internal political conflict and its association with the occupation governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is neither in a position to challenge US aggression in the region, nor to support Palestinians. Yet, at a time of economic crisis, the hegemon capitalist world power is in no position to tolerate a rogue state in a strategic part of the Middle East. The severity of the sanctions can only be explained if we take these facts into account. Iran’s clerical rulers are busy fighting each other, the economy is in a terrible state and the US and its allies hope sanctions will bring about their desired regime change.
Reformists and US style regime change
Since the disputed elections of last summer, sections of the international left have tried to reduce protests by millions of Iranians to an imperialist plot for a colour revolution. In the US the World Workers Party stood firmly behind Ahmadinejad, denying any fraud took place and heralding the Iranian president as the champion of the poor, while leftist academic James Petras wrote:
“The demography of voting reveals a real class polarization pitting high income, free market oriented, capitalist individualists against working class, low income, community based supporters of a ‘moral economy’ in which usury and profiteering are limited by religious precepts.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Far from being an opponent of privatisation or a champion of the poor, Ahmadinejad’s presidency has coincided with a period of unprecedented privatisations, deregulation of work, mass unemployment and a growing gap between rich and poor, and the abolition of all subsidies.
As Iran steadily moves up in the ranks of the most corrupt world states, contrary to James Petras’s claims it is the upper classes, the owners of capital, who benefit from the current government’s policies. Dictatorships work well for those seeking maximum exploitation of labour. Who but a neo-conservative Islamic regime could have created conditions forcing car plant workers (among the elite of the Iranian working class) work three consecutive shifts in order to survive?
Owners of major capital have benefited from the policies of consecutive Islamic governments, especially since 1988. That is why they tolerate minor inconveniences caused by the interference of religion in private lives. In fact, unlike the working classes and the poor, they are not too concerned about sexual apartheid, bans on alcohol, restrictions on gatherings. They can afford to bribe their way into living a Los Angeles style life right in the middle of the capital city of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And both in maintaining a Western lifestyle and in their ultra rightwing Persian nationalism, they have an ally in Ahmadinejad’s most trusted deputy, Mashaei.
On the political scene, the leaders of the Green movement are not considered regime-change forces by the US. There are many reasons for this, amongst them the fact that they remain loyal to the constitution of the Islamic republic. Also because their coming to power would not be seen by anyone as the US regaining control of Iran, not a sufficient enough reversal of the 1979 revolution. On the contrary, they remain the last card of the Islamic republic, a safeguard against downfall of the entire regime. The overwhelming majority of the political groups and parties behind the foundation of the Islamic republic in 1979, as well as senior ayatollahs, both in the council of experts (ayatollah Rafsanjani) and those acting as source of shia guidance (ayatollahs Yousef Sanei, Bayat-Zajani, Dastgheyb, etc) are currently in the reformist camp.
This above all else explains why Iran’s supreme leader tolerates this legal opposition and why so often in recent weeks his office played the role of intermediary and peacemaker between conservatives (the majority faction in the majlis) and reformists, even at the cost of isolating Ahmadinejad. Of course, should other more trusted allies, such as royalists, republicans and former religious figures currently gathered around the regime change camp in Washington, fail to increase their support base, the US and its allies might then consider supporting leaders of the Green movement.
Opposition to the entire regime and the reformist camp
The last few weeks have been turbulent times for the reformist movement. Despite new arrests, the return to prison of activists on bail and impending court cases, sections of this movement seem to have found new confidence in confronting the regime. Attempts at gaining televised confessions from imprisoned reformists have failed and some have started proceedings against their jailers and torturers. Karoubi and Mousavi have launched a new satellite and internet station. However the gap between the radical young supporters of the Green movement and a conservative and rather ineffective leadership remains as wide as ever.
Two weeks ago Karoubi’s house was surrounded by a pro-Ahmadinejad mob who smashed windows and damaged security cameras; but they had to retreat having failed to gain any support from revolutionary guards. Even amongst Iran’s paramilitary forces there are divided loyalties between conservatives and neo-conservative pro-Ahmadinejad forces. In a clear sign of shifting alliances, revolutionary guard commanders issued a statement condemning the attack on Karoubi’s house. On September 15 plain clothes security agents raided the office of Mousavi and took away computers and some of his belongings. His office and website claimed this marked a “new phase in restrictions” on him.
Throughout the 14 months since the rigged elections, leaders of the Green movement have complained about repression and attacks by security forces. However no Green movement supporters have faced the kind of repression meted out day in day out to labour activists (such as Tehran busworkers Reza Shahabi and Mansoor Ossanlou), to defenders of women’s rights such as Shiva Nazarahari or to hundreds of leftist student activists arrested in the last few months. Having said that, a positive aspect of the continued internal conflict between the various factions of the regime is that it allows a limited breathing space to workers, women and students who are waging the real struggle for regime change from below – its revolutionary overthrow.
While conflicts between plain clothes security forces and military and Pasdar leaders who call them ‘rogue agents’ are escalating, reformists and conservatives are attempting a new alliance against neo-conservatives around Ahmadinejad. With severe sanctions and renewed talk of military attacks against Iran, all of this heralds a new phase in the post-election period.
There is the danger of increased repression, imprisonment of all opposition figures, imposition of terror and further attacks on the working class. However there is also a possibility that the cracks between the majlis and the president are too deep to permit a reconciliation, that protests will continue and that the next round of mass protests against unemployment, abolition of subsidies and the lack of freedom and democracy will be more radical and effective than last year’s demonstrations.
- What death sentence? says Ahmadinejad, as Clinton calls for regime change www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/what-death-sentence-says-ahmadinejad-as-clinton-calls-for-regime-change/story-e6frg6so-1225926574574
- Iran stands firm over Ashtiani stoning case www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11212289
- Former hostage speaks as Ahmadinejad arrives in USA www.pressherald.com/news/nationworld/former-hostage-speaks-as-ahmadinejad-arrives-in-u_s__2010-09-20.html
- ‘Iran, economic and political crises’ Critique volume 38- issue 3, August 2010 www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a924315217~frm=titlelink
Hands Off the People of Iran chair Yassamine Mather assesses the current situation in Iran at Communist University 2010.
This is a new video of Yassamine Mather speaking about a year of resistance, working class struggle and betrayal in Iran. It was filmed during a fringe event of ‘Marxism 2010’ organised by London Communist Forum. Yassamine Mather is the Chair of Hands Off the People of Iran.
On June 12th there were protests in the capital Tehran and across the country including Tabriz, Sanandaj, Ahvaz, Shiraz, Mashhad, and Isfahan. Hundreds of students at the university of Tehran also protested despite a heavy security presence, determined to keep alive the memory of students who suffered at the hands of the state at this time last year, when a dormitory was stormed by riot police and plainclothes militia leaving seven students dead and others disappeared. In the run up to the anniversary of the 2009 presidential election, seen widely as a coup d’etat by Ahmadinejad’s government, dozens of activists have been arrested and the families of those killed in last year’s violence have been subject to intimidation by state agents.
Report: Protest at the University of Tehran on Anniversary of Dorm Attacks
Clashes at Tehran University/تجمع و درگیری در دانشگاه تهران
Video Compilation: 22 Khordad Demonstrations
Shiraz June 12 Protests Suppressed by Basij Militia
Protest at Tehran University, 14 June مزدور چقدر گرفتی، دوربین به دست گرفتی
Protest at Tehran Sharif University, June 12th, 2010
As we approach the anniversary of the mass demonstrations that shook the theocratic regime last year. The repressive security apparatus has stepped up their attacks and violence on opposition activists. The regime executed 13 people in Ghezel Hesar prison at the beginning of June in a warning to opposition activists that a repeat of last years uprising will not be tolerated. Dozens more activists and protesters are awaiting execution.
Even before the mass uprisings Hands Off the People of Iran was supporting left-wing student activists who were facing repression, arrest and violence by the security forces. You can see a video of Freedom and Equality Seeking Students members speaking in October 2008 here. The left-wing of the student movement in Iran has been one of the most politically advanced and therefore suffered greatly at the hands of the state repressive forces. At the end of last month Behzad Bagheri, a student at Tehran University and member of Freedom and Equality Seeking Students was arrested. His family have not been able to learn of his condition or charges and there has been no contact between Behzad and his family. He was previously arrested in 2007 with other left wing activists in 2007 for taking part in anti-militarist and ant-regime protests.
Earlier on 8th May Bahman Khodadi, another left-wing student was arrested along with other activists in Isfahan. This add to the already huge numbers of political prisoners including such as student leader Mohammad Pourabdollah who has been in prison since February 2008 after being arrested previously in February 2007, he has been kep it solitary confinement suffering torture and constant attacks by the prison authorities. Other political prisoners include the Bus Worker’s union leader Mansoor Osanloo.
The attempt to scare off the mass movement and to undermine the ability of the opposition to organise is being driven towards mass murder and detention. Our movement must call for the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners.
You can help by getting your union branch, your political organisation or yourself and friends to spread the news of the ongoing repression to opposition activists in Iran. You can also help put pressure on the authorities by sending messages of protest calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Iran:
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Prince´s Gate
London SW7 1PT
Embassy and the Consulate switchboard: 020 7225 3000
Fax (Embassy): 020 7589 4440
Recent news about Iran has been dominated by U.S. attempts to increase sanctions, and one could be forgiven for thinking the world hegemonic capitalist power is preparing war against a major nuclear power. The reality is far different: all the fuss is about a country where nine months of mass protests have not only weakened the state but also divided the ruling circles, making reconciliation at the top impossible. We are talking of a country where neoliberal policies and sanctions have created a serious economic crisis, with inflation projections of 50 percent this spring and youth unemployment estimated at 70 percent. So why are the U.S. and world media obsessed with the “threat posed by Iran”? — a threat that must be curtailed with “severe” sanctions or war? And what is the future for the protest movement in the midst of all this?
Current threats against Iran have little to do with nuclear issues. Iran is still two to five years away from achieving nuclear weapons capability. The drive for new sanctions cannot be understood unless one looks at the history of U.S. relations with Iran’s Islamic regime. The 1979 revolution deprived Washington of one of its most important allies in the Middle East, and the world superpower cannot be seen to be losing control in such a strategic area. Iran’s territorial waters include the Straits of Hormuz through which 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil shipments flow. Also, at a time of world economic crisis the United States and its allies need a place to assert their authority. Yet since the launch of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq they have inadvertently increased Iran’s regional influence and strength.
The continuation of the conflict has another major cause. Iran’s Islamic regime has relied on crises and foreign enemies to survive. Otherwise how could it explain its failure to achieve any of the basic demands of 1979 after 31 years in power? The “external” enemy is also essential for justifying continued repression.
Iranian workers and political activists (with the possible exception of supporters of the former Shah) are unanimous: new “crippling” sanctions, bombing Iranian nuclear sites, or a military attack would be a disaster. Sanctions will let the regime off the hook, as the regime will blame severe economic conditions entirely on the embargo.
In April of this year Washington unveiled its new nuclear policy, which limits its use of nuclear weapons but excludes from its pledge “outliers” such as Iran and North Korea. Protests and demonstrations inside Iran should be seen within this context. The protests continue due to the tenacity and courage of thousands of Iranians, though more sporadically in the face of severe repression. But everyone, from government to “reformists” to revolutionary opposition, now agrees that the protests are no longer about who should be “president,” but about the very existence of the religious state.
Reports from some recent protests suggest that for the first time in the last 30 years many women demonstrators didn’t wear head-scarves or hijabs. On December 27, 2009, security forces at a number of locations had to retreat, as demonstrators burned police vehicles and basij posts and erected barricades. Videos show instances where police and basij were captured and detained by demonstrators and three police stations in Tehran were briefly occupied. Demonstrators also set fire to Tehran’s Bank Saderat.
Since early 2010 basij and Revolutionary Guards have been unleashed to further impose an atmosphere of terror. Hundreds have been incarcerated, arrested worker activists have been fired, and leftists have been rounded up and in some cases issued death sentences.
Despite the bravado of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the demonstrations of 2009-10 have divided the conservatives. While supporters of Ahmadinejad openly call for more arrests and even execution of political opponents, the parliamentary “principalists” preach caution.
In January 2010, a parliamentary committee publicly blamed Tehran’s former prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, a close ally of Ahmadinejad’s, for the death of three prisoners arrested in June. The committee found that Mortazavi had confined 147 opposition supporters and 30 criminals to a cell measuring only 70 square meters. The inmates were frequently beaten and spent days without food or water.
Ali Motahhari, a prominent fundamentalist parliamentarian, told the magazine Iran Dokht: “Under the current circumstances, moderates should be in charge of the country’s affairs.” He suggested holding Ahmadinejad accountable for the prison deaths and for fuelling the post-election turmoil. Iranian state television broadcasts debates between “radical” and “moderate” conservatives, in which some blame Ahmadinejad for the crisis. There are two reasons for this dramatic change in line:
- The winter demonstrations were a turning point, in that both conservatives and “reformists” came to realize how the anger and frustration of ordinary Iranians was taking revolutionary forms.
- The principalists are responding to a number of “proposals” by leading “reformists” — as a last attempt to save the Islamic Republic. Fearful of revolution, “reformists” — from June 2009 presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi to former president Mohammad Khatami — have made conciliatory statements, and the moderate conservatives have responded positively.
In a clear sign that “reformists” have heard the cry of revolution, Moussavi’s initial response to the winter 2009 demonstrations was to distance himself from them, emphasizing that neither he nor Mehdi Karroubi had called for them. His January 1 statement “Five stages to resolution” was a signal to both his supporters and opponents that this was truly the last chance to save the regime.
Western reportage of the statement concentrated on his comment “I am ready to sacrifice my life for reform.” Iranians are well known for their love of “martyrdom,” from Ashura to the Fedayeen Islam in 1946, to the Marxist Fedayeen (1970s-80s). Iranians have been mesmerized by the Shia concept of martyrdom, 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 to put his life on the line for the cause of “reform” and compromise!
Moussavi’s plan was seen as a compromise because it did not challenge the legitimacy of the current president and “presents a way out of the current impasse,” demanding more freedom for the “reformist” politicians, activists and press, as well as accountability of government forces, while reaffirming allegiance to the constitution of the Islamic regime, as well as the existing “judicial and executive powers.”
Moussavi’s statement was followed on January 4 by a “10-point proposal” from the self-appointed “ideologues” in exile of Iran’s Islamic “reformist” movement: Akbar Ganji, Abdolkarim Soroush, Mohsen Kadivar, Abdolali Bazargan and Ataollah Mohajerani. Fearful that Moussavi’s plan will be seen as too much of a compromise, the five call for the resignation of Ahmadinejad and fresh elections under the supervision of a new independent commission to replace that of the Guardian Council. Later Khatami and another former president, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, publicly declared their support for the compromise, while condemning “radicals and rioters.” Khatami went further, insulting demonstrators who called for the overthrow of the Islamic regime.
All in all, winter was a busy time for Iran’s “reformists,” terrified by the radicalism of the demonstrators and desperate to save the clerical regime. Inevitably the reformist left, led by the Fedayeen Majority, is submissively following 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 address the most basic democratic demand of growing numbers of Iranian protestors: separation of state and religion.
On the Iranian left, arguments about the “principal contradiction” and “stages of revolution” seem to dominate current debates. While some Maoists argue for a “democratic stage” of the revolution, citing the relative weakness of the organized working class, the Coordinating Committee for the Setting Up of Workers’ Organizations (Comite Hahamhangi) points out that the dominant contradiction in Iran, a country where 70 percent of the population lives in urban areas, is between labor and capital. They say that the level and depth of workers’ struggles show radicalism and levels of organization and that the Iranian working class is the only force capable of delivering radical democracy.
Leftwing organizations and their supporters are also discussing the lessons of the recent demonstrations. Sections of the police and soldiers are refusing to shoot demonstrators and the issue of organizing 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 major cities the organization of neighborhood shoras (councils) has started.
Official celebrations of the 1979 uprising that brought down the shah’s regime stood in total contrast to the events of 31 years ago. The state’s lengthy preparations for the anniversary of the revolution included the arrest of hundreds of political activists, hanging two prisoners (for “waging war on god”), and blocking internet and satellite communications. The government brought busloads of basij paramilitaries and people from the provinces to boost the number of its supporters — it considers the majority of the 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 media communications. The basij blocked all routes to Azadi Square by 9 a.m. and dispersed large crowds of oppositionists who had gathered at Ghadessiyeh Square and other intersections, preventing them from reaching the official celebration. From the speakers’ podium, surrounded by basij and Revolutionary Guards, many dressed in military uniform, Ahmadinejad produced yet another fantastic claim. In the two days since his instruction to step up centrifuge-based uranium enrichment from 3 percent to 20 percent, this had already been achieved! Nuclear scientists are unanimous that such a feat is impossible. The crude display of military power, typical of the state-organized shows that dictators have always staged, 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 regime’s repressive forces, 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 offices of the shah’s secret police were occupied by the Fedayeen, and when air force cadets turned their weapons against their superiors, paving the way for a popular uprising.
The show put on by our tin-pot dictators was an insult to the memory of that uprising. Yet despite all the efforts and mobilization preceding the official demonstration, despite the fact that confused and at times conciliatory messages of “reformist” leaders had disarmed sections of the Green movement, the regime could muster only 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 basij. 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 basij might not be able to control the protesters gathering in neighboring squares, the government decided to start its extravagant ceremony early and then cut it short.
Attempts at compromise by Green movement leaders in open and secret negotiations with the office of the “supreme leader” failed. By early February, it was clear that no deal was in the cards. As always, the main problem with our “reformists” is that by remaining loyal to the “supreme leader,” by condemning the popular slogan, “Down with the Islamic regime,” they fail to understand the mood of those who have taken to the streets. The movement is adamant in its call for an end to the current religious state — the repeated shouts of “Death to the dictator” are directed at the so-called “supreme leader” himself.
The February protests marked a setback for Moussavi and Karroubi — not just in their politics, but also in their tactics. First, it is foolhardy to organize demonstrations to coincide with the official calendar of events, as it allows the regime to plan repression well in advance. Second, it was absurd to call on people to join the regime’s demonstrations and, third, opposition to a 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.
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 dearly at a time when opposition to the regime in its entirety is growing. The Islamic version of capitalism has brought about much harsher conditions for the working class and the poor. The 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 reasons why the urban protests continue.
On February 15 Hillary Clinton cited the economic and political power of the Revolutionary Guards as a sign that “Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship.” Yet there is nothing new in the power of the Revolutionary Guards. Since 1979 they have been the single most important pillar of the state, involved in every aspect of political and military power. What is new is their involvement in capitalist ventures, empowered by the relentless privatization plans driven by the IMF and World Bank.
In recent years Revolutionary Guards have accumulated vast fortunes through the acquisition of privatized capital — precisely the pattern seen in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Those in power, often with direct connections to military and security forces, are able to purchase the newly privatized industries. That is the case with many U.S. allies, yet we have not heard the State Department criticize “creeping military dictatorships” in those countries.
No doubt, as repression increases, Iranians’ hatred of the basij and Revolutionary Guards will increase. However, they don’t need the crocodile tears of the U.S. administration — indeed interventions like those of Clinton and condemnations of the repression coming from the U.S. and European governments tend to damage the movement. Iranians are well aware of the kind of “democratic havens” created by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the last thing they want is regime change U.S.-style.
Working Class Response
As repression increases and mass demonstrations are replaced with localized protests, many point out the significance of workers’ strikes in the overthrow of the Shah’s regime and attention is turning towards the unprecedented levels of worker protests. In the words of one labor activist, “a Tsunami of workers’ strikes.” Even before the new sanctions, the economic situation has worsened. Hundreds of car workers — the elite of Iran’s working class — are being sacked every week.
The involvement of the working class in the political arena has increased qualitatively. Four workers’ organizations — 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 — published a joint statement declaring support for the protests and specifying what they call the minimum demands of the working class. These include an end to executions, release of imprisoned activists, freedom of the press and media, the right to set up workers’ organizations, job security, abolition of all misogynist legislation, declaration of May 1 as a public holiday, and expulsion from workplaces of government-run organizations. Meanwhile, Tehran’s bus workers have issued a call for civil disobedience to protest against the holding of Mansour Osanloo in prison.
Workers involved in setting up nationwide councils have issued a radical political statement regarding what they see as the priority demands that Iranian workers ought to raise. Emphasizing 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.
There are reports of strikes and demonstrations in one of Iran’s largest industrial complexes, Isfahan’s steel plant, where privatization 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 radicalize protests in this industry, which is critical to the regime’s survival.
In March 2010, many prominent labor activists, including Osanloo, who are currently in prison, were sacked from their jobs for “failing to turn up at work,” prompting protests in bus depots and the Haft Tapeh sugar cane plant. In December 2009 Lastic Alborz factory workers struck for unpaid wages. There have been protests at dozens of other workplaces.
Future of the Protests
Even if the two main factions of the regime had achieved a compromise, it was unlikely that such a move could have defused the movement. However Moussavi, Karroubi and Khatami have failed to gain anything from their attempts at “reconciliation”; they are well aware that any additional talk of compromise will further reduce their influence amongst protesters. That explains recent statements by Moussavi, who in early April told a group of reformists in Parliament that the Iranian establishment continued to lose legitimacy: “One of the problems is that the government thinks that it has ended the dissent by ending the street protests.”
Moussavi said that people have lost confidence in the state because of widespread corruption, incompetence and mismanagement since the presidential election. He said the movement needed to expand its influence among social groups like teachers and workers. “Our interests are intertwined with their interests, and we need to defend their rights,” he said. Khatami echoed this message: “If the authorities do not come up with effective policies the coming year will be the year of social crises.”
Iran is bracing itself for another turbulent year, and most observers believe the working class and youth will play a greater role in the coming protests.
By Yassamine Mather: from New Politics
Ben Lewis reports on the campaign to free the outspoken film maker imprisoned by the Iranian regime
Activists in Hands Off the People of Iran have been informed that Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed film maker who has been incarcerated for over two months, has begun a hunger strike in Evin prison.
This is the latest brave step by Panahi, who is increasingly becoming a symbol of resistance. The solidarity he can generate is of grave cause concern for the Islamic Republic, despite its jails, armed thugs and reactionary militias. Panahi fully realises this, and he is using his standing to exert as much pressure on the regime as possible. He has refused offers of bail, saying that he will only accept it when all other political prisoners are released. Like him, the overwhelming majority of these prisoners were arrested as part of the shocking wave of repression unleashed by the regime in response to the enormous protests on the streets of Iran following last June’s rigged presidential elections.
As we have reported previously, Panahi has been subjected to rigorous interrogation in jail. The Evin interrogators appear to be pursuing the tried and tested approach of bombarding him with the same questions over and over again in order to force inconsistencies in his answers, backing this up with the soul-destroying conditions and humiliating treatment for which Evin prison has become infamous.
Last Saturday the authorities kept all inmates in his wing of the prison outside their cells in the open air for the whole night. Next morning he was interrogated once more, this time being accused of secretly working on a film from his cell. He is particularly concerned about some of the new threats that have been made against his family.
There is clearly a lot of work for us in the solidarity movement. We must do what we can to publicise Jafar Panahi’s brave stance, not least using his wonderfully human films. He – and indeed all the other political prisoners in Iran – cannot be allowed to suffer without an outcry. Holywood directors Martin Scorscese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Redford have issued forthright statements demanding his release. At this week’s 63rd Cannes Film Festival there were countless expressions of solidarity. One of the nine chairs for jury members remained empty in his honour. Given Panahi’s reputation internationally, it is quite striking that his case has hitherto been subjected to what John McDonnell MP has described as a “media blackout” in Britain, and we must break through this.
Simultaneously, it is vital ensure that the brutal actions of the Iranian state and its callous treatment of dissenters and critical figures of all kinds should not in any way be misappropriated by the US or UK governments to cover their designs on Iran and the region more generally. At a time when the permanent members of the UN security council – US, UK, China, Russia and France – have agreed on new proposals for a fresh round of sanctions, and when the rightwing Israeli politicians hypocritically hark on about the danger of a “second holocaust”, this is of the utmost importance.
Indeed, given that public opinion is not exactly welcoming the prospect of the further escalation of tension in the Middle East, one of the ways in which the imperialists may attempt to respond is to disingenuously latch on to the cause of Iran’s political prisoners. So there is a danger that the political and cultural establishment in the US and UK could hijack Panahi’s courageous stance for their own nefarious purposes. So we must redouble our campaign for the immediate and unconditional release not only of Panahi, but of all political prisoners, and link this with implacable opposition to imperialist sanctions and threats of war. A fight on two fronts which Hopi has conducted since its inception.
May 12 saw well over 100 people attend a solidarity screening at London’s Soho Theatre of Panahi’s best known film, Offside, jointly organised by Hopi and the Labour Representation Committee. The event was the first in a series of film showings and solidarity events across the country. The Manchester screening took place on May 18, and there will be a further one in Glasgow on May 21.
The event opened with Soho Theatre’s artistic director, Lisa Goldman, providing a moving account of her work with Panahi on artistic projects in Iran. She was followed by John McDonnell, who outlined the significance of the campaign to free Panahi. “Every movement creates a symbol,” he said. “In refusing bail until all other political prisoners are freed, Jafar is taking a courageous stance that we in Hopi wish to applaud and highlight.” He emphasised the importance of Hopi’s core principles – against war or sanctions on Iran; but no support for the theocracy and unequivocal solidarity with genuinely democratic struggles from below against its rule, especially those of the workers’ movement.
This was a theme British-Iranian comic Shappi Khorsandi took up in her opening remarks to the audience, explaining that is why she “loved” Hopi. Offside was certainly a big hit with the audience: stormy applause followed its closing credits. At the end a message of thanks was read out from Panahi’s family.
Hopi activists have been present this week at the Public and Commercial Services union conference in Brighton and our stall has had a very good response from delegates. PCS has been affiliated to Hopi since 2008 and the annual conference is always a good time to meet PCS militants new and old. Gratifyingly, the response we had from the delegates this year was particularly warm. We distributed some 400 information bulletins on the Jafar Panahi campaign and have already received over 50 signed postcards, which will be sent off in a special batch to Panahi’s family in Iran. We also raised funds for our campaigning work by selling numerous ‘No to war; no to theocracy’ badges and copies of Panahi’s films.
From Weekly Worker 818