The public meeting held on Monday 28th May to discuss the war threats against Iran, which was jointly organised by Hands Off the People of Iran and the Milton Keynes Stop the War group was a good success. Over 20 people attended and heard an excellent opening from Moshé Machover, Israeli socialist and member of the HOPI steering committee. This was followed by a good discussion with a number of interesting questions and points being raised.
Thanks to Brian Robinson for the recordings and summary of the questions.
Responding to questions (see below):
What bearing do current events in Syria have on Israeli thinking? Doesn’t it seem all part of an Israeli push for war?
Some time ago, towards the end of Saddam Hussein’s rule, there was a rumour going around the middle east about a plan to move Palestinian refugees to Iraq, the alleged quid pro quo being that if Saddam agreed, the West would “get off his back”. The questioner also heard at the same time that the Saudis allegedly backed the plan, as part of their “unholy alliance” with Israel. Was there any truth in these rumours?
There was a report in the Guardian recently about some evidence having been found of a “nuclear clear-up” in Iran. There was no suggestion that it was evidence of military potential, or indeed of any other use, but the questioner wondered how easy or difficult it was for inspectors to distinguish between civilian-use and weapons-grade radioactive material.
We are “at the mercy of decisions made in Israel and Washington” concerning these matters, but how do the Israeli general public feel about them? To what degree is there opposition to an attack on Iran amongst the general Israeli public?
Does Israel really have a nuclear bomb? There is talk that they have a stockpile of simulated nuclear bombs only, but what is Prof Machover’s view? (A. There is no question but that they do have several hundred, possibly even more than Britain.)
A further question as to how Israeli nuclear policy makes sense.
In the early days of Israel, people used to emigrate “with a very egalitarian view of what it was about”, and they lived “like communists”, but that was then and this is now. What would the world’s view be, where would things be in 50 years?
Prof Machover deals with the first part of the question, but declines, with humour, to speculate on the long term future, apart from emphasising that we are now in the middle of a worldwide crisis of global capitalism and nobody knows how it is going to be resolved.
Further question re social media, specifically Facebook and how it might affect developments.
And further to that, what effect might the Occupy movement have?
Question about the situation inside Iran.
The demographic situation in Israel is not tenable, but the questioner felt that further ethnic cleansing would be both unsustainable and unsupportable in the light of world opinion, so what did the future hold for Israel? Do not Israelis suffer from an absence of hope and do they not therefore rather “live from day to day”?
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.
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.
Solidarity meeting hosted by Hands Off the People of Iran
Saturday July 4, 17.10
Room 3B University of London Union, Malet Street
John McDonnell MP
Yassamine Mather (HOPI Chair)
Socialist Workers’ Party (invited)
Socialist Party (invited)
Iranian society is convulsed by a political crisis on a scale not seen for over a decade. Masses of Iranian people have taken to the streets since the results of the rigged elections. Their outrage is justified. The levels of blatant vote-rigging on show was crazy even by the standards of Iran’s Islamic Republic regime. The masses are continuing to defy the crackdown and to come out onto the streets and urgently need our material and ideological solidarity.
If the left can come together on this question then we can win hegemony over the solidarity movement, which is currently dominated either by Moussavi supporters and/or groupings which are silent on the role of imperialism in the Middle East.
With this in mind, Hopi is hosting this meeting and has invited speakers from the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party. We are urging the SWP to incorporate the event into its Marxism event, and if not then to send along a speaker to try and discuss the way forward for solidarity action on this crucial question.
Here are the videos of yesterday’s solidarity meeting, which was attended by over 40 people and raised 230 pounds for our comrades struggling in Iran. The Speakers were Yassamine Mather and Moshe Machover with the Green Party’s Jim Jepps in the Chair. To find out more about upcoming HOPI meetings, or to request a speaker for your organisation, campaign or union – please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07590429226.
Hopi Emergency Meeting
What lies behind the crisis in Iran?
With Yassamine Mather and Moshe Machover. Followed by a fundraising social.
20 June 2009, 2pm
Caxton House,129 St. John’s Way London, N19 3RQ
Iranian society is convulsed by a political crisis on a scale not seen for 30 years. Masses of Iranian people have taken to the streets since the results of the rigged elections. Their outrage is justified. The levels of blatant vote-rigging on show was crazy even by the standards of Iran’s Islamic Republic regime. The final result underlined that the whole process was compromised from top to bottom:
Ahmadinejad was declared winner by the official media even before some polling stations had closed
The percentage of votes for each candidate were clearly choreographed – throughout results night, none of the candidates’ vote varied by more than three percent
Hundreds of candidates were barred from standing in the first place
The main ‘reformist’ candidate Mir-Hossain Moussavi immediately declared the elections a “charade” and claimed Iran was moving towards tyranny. Thousands of protesters (not all of them backers of Moussavi) poured onto the streets and confrontations between the people and the state’s armed forces have escalated by the hour. Millions of people are on the street. The first demonstrator has been killed.Iranian society remains on a knife-edge. Hopi supporters are in daily contact with Iran and are pushing for maximum solidarity from the workers’ movement here to progressive forces in that country. We are determined that the upsurge against theocratic rule is not derailed by demoguoges and sell-out merchants from within the regime itself. Come along to hear more about what is going on.