Tag Archives: reformists

Never forget! Never forgive! The massacres of 1988

khavaranIn the first of a series of articles for Hands Off the People of Iran Aida Foruzan looks at the mass murder carried out by the theocratic regime in the summer of 1988.

In the summer of 1988 the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran committed one of the greatest crimes against humanity, they massacred at least 10,000 Iranian political activists, some of them only a sympathizer or reader of a political paper, the statistics which detail how many were murdered varies from 5000  this is the number of the ones who are defiantly known and identified, many who got executed including a family member of my own are not on this list) to 100,000 the statistic that Mujahedin have given (which seems exaggerated). I believe that the the quantity is not important when it comes to killing human beings for the way they think, even if the Islamic republic had killed only one person in this way every person responsible for this had to answer and pay for it, but still of course it is important to follow-up the exact statistics of the number of the people who lost their lives in that deadly summer, but falling in the trap of just arguing about the number which is done by some political tendencies consciously, and some individuals with out knowing the consequences is just what helps the Islamic Republic, because the statistics are vary drastically! The Islamic Republic is using this disagreement between political groups and individuals and witnesses to confuse people, of course the fundamentalists and the reformists (whom now days consider them selves as the opposition to Ahmadinejad’s government) have different reasons and attitudes doing this which I will discuss soon in another article.

In this article I want to go through why we should not fall in the trap of numbers there are different reasons why we should not emphasize and put too much time on this. Firstly logically we can not! We can never be sure how many people exactly died in that summer, before the fall of the regime and having access to the governmental documents of those days it is impossible to find a exact number, people who are trying to find the number using the names of the people who got executed and their relatives declared their names to the UN or other international organizations are never going to be close to the real number because the names are usually given by the families or sometimes friends who were in the same prison with them and got out alive. There are many families (specially from small towns or villages) who never sent out the name of their executed beloved ones. Some of them feared that the regime would make life harder for them, some were frankly threatened by the regime that they should be silent or wait for revenge and some (not many of course) were religious and a supporter of the regime so obviously they didn’t give out the name (I know people who gave up their own children). Some were illiterate or living in very small towns and villages and had no connection to send out the name, or they did not have the knowledge to know doing so is needed and finally some were very depressed after loosing their lost ones and simply they didn’t think that giving out a name or trying to revile the murderers is going to ease their pain.

People who think that the number of the executed is close to the number of the identified names, may argue that the families were not the only sources for these names, I would answer no some of the executed people were among the known leaders and some of the names were reported by the witnesses who survived, but as we know according to the testimony of the witnesses for example,
out of a section with 250 people in Evin prison only 35 remained alive, so it is possible that in some part of smaller prisons every one has been killed and there are no witnesses, or there are a few witnesses who live in Iran or for any reason they have not witnessed what happened to Mujahedin or leftists. Many families were not sure if they were in prison or in the partisan camps and were never informed of their deaths.

Above I discussed some of the reasons why we can not believe that the number of the executions is a close number to the names that we have, on the other hand making up numbers (like Mujahedin are accused of doing it) is not going to help reviling this great crime and seeking justice. The attitude that leads to making up numbers by guess work and without sources is an attitude which does not really respect the value of human life, the ones who are doing this probably think very pragmatically that if they raise the numbers people are going to be more concerned and the leaders of the Islamic Republic have to face justice sooner. What they forget is that making up numbers has only helped the Islamic Republic so far to get out of this case in the international courts and in the minds of some people, they forget that the life of any human being is sacred and any dictatorship which takes a life has to pay back for it.

Arguing about the number has led us to an endless fight which will never end until we get the official documents. Firstly for this happen we have to fight for the collapse of the theocratic regime. This disagreement has been helping many to have an excuse for not opposing the theocratic regime, above all western media which makes hundreds of documentaries against the Cuban regime for having political prisoners and what Stalin did during the 30’s have kept almost quiet for the past decade over one the greatest mass murders in history. This useless fight about the numbers is one of the reasons that some of the tendencies of the European left which support the Islamic republic for being anti imperialist! (a very anti-Marxist, anti-socialist and opportunistic reason!) These groups have been able to keep defending the Islamic Republic without feeling responsible to explain and condemn what happened in the summer 1988 in Iran.

But the ones who are using it most of all are the former members of the regime, the reformist wing who consider themselves as the opposition these days, to hide their bloody hands behind their back and fade their fingerprints from the mass graves of a revolutionary generation.

What is to be done?

I think, we should admit that we can not have the exact numbers yet, I am sure the day  is not far away when we will have access to the full details of this crime, but until that day we should act and agitate over the facts that we have. In the summer of 1988 thousands of political prisoners who had already been put through a trials and detention were mass murdered by the orders of the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, ayatollah Syed Ruhollah Moosavi Khomeini, they had no chance to defend themselves and most of them were killed after answering negative to questioning on whether they prayed, believed in god and rejected their political organisations in a so called court.  Court sessions were held for 2 or 3 minutes and one Mullah was the only person present in the room in many cases, they sentenced thousands of prisoners to death, they killed them in the most severe ways some were hanged, some of them were put all together in a room and exploded many never got the chance to even write a goodbye letter.

They buried them in mass graves with their cloths on, never told their families were they were buried and threatened their families to be silent. One of these mass graves has been found today, it is called: Khavaran and some of the families followed the vans that came out of Evin prison and saw the bodies of their loved ones being buried all together in these area in the east of Tehran, even now after 22 years the people who go there to mourn their loved ones or to remember their comrades and friends are usually arrested, beaten, insulted and mistreated.

These are the facts that we have for sure, these are things no one can question or deny, and we have to stop fighting about the details we can not be sure of and condemn the ones responsible for this crime by any means possible. There are some young brave Iranian lawyers in exile nowadays who believe and are trying to prove that the mass murders in the summer of 1988 in Iran was a genocide, killing defenseless people who belonged to one generation and had a different way of thinking.

In the next article I will discuss more about what happened in the summer of  1988 and the attitudes of the different wings of the regime towards this event after 22 years and their attitude of the executions they have committed in the past 30 years. I will also look at the reasons why some activists do not like to attract any attention to the crimes of 1988.

I want to end my article in the memory of Mojtaba my cousin, who was killed in summer 1988, he was 17 when he was arrested, he was a sympathizer of Mujahedin and was arrested with an illegal paper. He was only a school student so he was told to write something asking for forgiveness, he didn’t do it and as a reader of the Mujahedin’s paper he was sentenced to life in prison! During his prison time once he went on a two month long hunger strike which was the reason the other prisoners started calling him Bobby Sands out of respect, in the last time he met his father in prison, he told him: they are doing chemical exams on us, the things that they want to use against Iraq in the war first they try it on us, he looked very pale and under his eyes had turned purple, after that he never got a chance to see or call or write to his family, one year later, in that unforgettable summer of 1988, the manager of the prison called my uncle he said: “we want to release your son, get ready to celebrate”, my uncle and his family prepared a big party and invited a lot of people, my uncle went to evin prison in the day he was told, they put a blindfold on his eyes, and led him through some halls and floors, he said: “I felt strange and unsecured, I felt something is wrong but I never even guessed how cruel they could be.” They led him to a room finally and gave him a bag: inside was Mojtaba’s two shirts and a small towel and a few other personal things, they told him that his son was executed and that he should go home and not to speak a word about this otherwise the authorities “will take your daughter to same place that he is now! No we can not tell you were he is buried.”  My uncle went home and all the preparation for the party was spent for Mojtaba’s small funeral, when he is talking about Mojtaba’s childhood or a memory from him he puts his hand on the shoulder of his other son and tries to smile, Mojtaba’s name is not in any list, we never knew were they hide his warm and kind heart, but he and the memory of his braveness and his way of life remains among the family, and I strongly believe that the one’s who could not stand his social consciousness and human like way of living will one day pay for their guilt, and I know that none of us is never going to forget nor forgive their crimes.

Iran: Reform and Revolution

8mars2Recent 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.

Conservative Divisions

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.[1] 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.[2] 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,”[3] 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.”[4] 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.”[5]

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.”[6]

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

‘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