Divided theocratic regime paralysed by sanctions

As the US steps up it efforts to provoke regime change from above, Yassamine Mather looks at the reasons for the failure of the working class to win leadership of the opposition movement

New sanctions imposed by the United States government last week were the most significant hostile moves against Iran’s Islamic Republic since 1979. They marked a period of unprecedented coordination led by the US to obtain the support of the United Nations and European Union.

After months of denying their significance, the government of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was forced to react by setting up an emergency counter-sanctions unit, whilst Iranian aviation officials accused the UK, Germany and the United Arab Emirates of refusing to supply fuel for civilian Iranian airplanes. As it turned out, this was not true. However, the EU banned most of Iran Air’s jets from flying over its territory, because of safety concerns directly related to previous sanctions. It is said that most of the national airline’s fleet, including Boeing 727s and 747s and its Airbus A320s, are unsafe because the company has not been able to replace faulty components.

The US is adamant that ‘severe’ sanctions are necessary to stop Iran’s attempts at becoming a military nuclear power. Scare stories are finding their way into the pages of the mass media. According to US defence secretary Robert Gates, Iran is developing the capacity to fire scores, or perhaps hundreds, of missiles at Europe. Ten days after making that claim, Gates alleged that Iran had enough enriched uranium to be able to build two atom bombs within two years.

However, it is difficult to believe the Obama administration’s claims that the new sanctions have anything to do with Iran’s nuclear capabilities, which is why we should consider other explanations.

Why is there such an urgency to increase the pressure on Iran? One likely possibility is that the Obama administration has observed the divisions within the current government (between neoconservatives, led by Ahmadinejad, and traditional conservatives, such as the Larijani brothers, who control Iran’s executive, parliamentary and judicial system) and sees an opportunity for regime change from above.

After weeks of infighting between Ahmadinejad and the conservatives, involving angry accusations and counter-accusations in parliament over Azad University, this week the reformist website, Rah-e-Sabz, posted an article claiming that “the supreme leader and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani had agreed a resolution of the conflict” over who controls Azad.

The university, one of the world’s largest, is part of a private chain with branches throughout the country and is considered a stronghold of Islamic ‘reformists’. Since 2004 Ahmadinejad has been trying to reorganise its board of governors in order to take back control. When the Islamic parliament opposed his moves to replace the board, the Guardian Council, which has to approve every bill, took the side of the Ahmadinejad camp, creating yet another stalemate between the two conservative groups within the ruling elite.

The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, had no choice but to intervene. He did so by ordering the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution to stop Ahmadinejad’s attempts to overrule parliament (in other words, he supported Rafsanjani, who, together with members of his family, are trustees and on the board of the university), In return Rafsanjani publicly praised Khamenei.

Some see this as a clever move. For the first time since last year’s disputed presidential elections, Khamenei has been forced to take a public stance against Ahmadinejad, resulting in a retreat by the president and his allies in the revolutionary guards. Azad University remains under the control of Rafsanjani and his family. No doubt if the rift between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad continues, the balance of power could shift in favour of the former president.

Meanwhile, Tehran’s bazaar was on strike for most of last week, in protest at a decision by Iran’s government to raise bazaar taxes by up to 70%. The government declared July 11 and 12 public holidays in 19 Iranian provinces, citing hot weather and dust, but there were rumours that the real reason was to conceal the possibility of strikes on those days.

All this is a reflection of Iran’s political paralysis and the state’s inability to deal with a combination of economic crisis and growing opposition amongst the majority of the population.

Crippling effects

Successive Iranian governments have denied the effectiveness of 30 years of crippling sanctions, but most economists inside the country estimate that sanctions have added 35% to the price of every commodity. Iran had been forced to buy spare parts for cars, planes, manufacturing equipment, agricultural machinery, etc on the black market, and now it will be forced to buy refined oil in the same way, causing a further jump in the rate of inflation. The smuggling of refined oil from Iraq started earlier this month, but the quantity received is unlikely to be sufficient to meet demand even during the summer months.

The new financial restrictions that came with the latest sanctions have crippled Iran’s banking and insurance sector. Iran already attracted little foreign investment, but now even China is pulling out of industrial ventures, such as the South Farse oil project. The proposed policing of ships and containers travelling to Iran means shipping insurance rates in the Persian Gulf are now the equivalent of those in war zones.

Despite the absence of the large demonstrations that followed the rigged elections of a year ago, most Iranians agree that the religious state is today weaker than it was in June 2009 (at the height of mass protests) and that could explain renewed interest in the US for regime change from above. At a time when anger against Iran’s rulers and frustration with leaders of the green movement amongst youth and sections of working class is tangible, it is difficult to predict what will happen next. From bloggers to journalists, from students to the unemployed, opponents of the regime are blaming ‘reformist’ leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi for the current stalemate – people’s patience is running out. Could it be that the Obama administration is planning to replace the Islamic Republic with a regime composed of selected exiles, à la Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq or Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan? After all, there is no shortage of former Islamists currently residing in the US who have converted to ‘liberal democracy’, including Iranian disciples of Karl Popper. Such people are paraded daily in the Farsi media and portrayed as the voice of reason.

In contrast to the hesitation and conciliationism of green leaders, others within the opposition have been stepping up their protests against the Islamic regime and two potentially powerful sections – the women’s movement and the workers’ movement – are conducting their own struggles. Yet here too Moussavi’s patronising attitude to both groups (he called on workers to join the green movement to safeguard their interests, while his wife claimed to support women’s rights) have backfired badly. In the words of one feminist activist, the green movement should realise it is one section of the opposition, but not the only voice of the protest movement.

Workers’ movement

Superficial analysts abroad labelled last year’s anti-dictatorship protesters in Iran as middle class. However, those present at these demonstrations were adamant that workers, students and the unemployed played a huge role. In May, the Centre to Defend Families of the Slain and Detained in Iran published the names of 10 workers who were killed in post-election street protests, and there is considerable evidence that workers, the unemployed and shanty town-dwellers were among the forces that radicalised the movement’s slogans (crossing the red lines imposed by green leaders, such as the call for an end to the entire regime, and for the complete separation of state and religion). In addition we are witnessing an increasing number of workers’ demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes against the non-payment of wages, deteriorating conditions and low pay. The workers’ protest movement has been dubbed a tsunami, and in recent months it has adopted clear political slogans against the dictatorship.

Last week was typical. Five hundred workers staged protests outside Abadan refinery against unpaid wages, blocking the road outside the refinery. Two of their comrades filming the action were arrested, but these workers are adamant they will continue the strikes and demonstrations next week. Three hundred Pars metal workers staged a separate protest against non-payment of wages and cuts in many of the workers’ benefits, such as the bus to and from work and the subsidised canteen, which managers of the privatised company intend to close. Similar protests have taken place in dozens of large and small firms throughout Iran. Most have moved on from purely economic demands to include political slogans against the regime.

However, we still see little coordination between these protests and workers have yet to make their mark as a class aware of its power and historic role. Despite much talk of mushrooming industrial action and even a general strike, so far we have not seen the Iranian working class taking its rightful place at the head of a national movement.

So how can we explain the current situation? A number of points have been raised by the left in Iran:

1. The working class and leftwing activists have faced more severe forms of repression than any other section of the opposition, even prior to June 2009. However, it is difficult to accept that fear of arrest or detention has played any part in the reluctance of workers to make their mark as a political force. Clearly repression has not deterred workers from participating in strikes, taking managers hostage or blocking highways. In fact incarcerated activists include the majority of the leaders of Vahed Bus Company, serving Tehran and its suburbs, the entire leadership of Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers and activists from the Committee to set up Independent Workers’ Organisations.

2. Workers have been misled by the leaders of the green movement. Yet throughout the presidential election debates they did not hear any substantial difference between the economic plans proposed by Moussavi and Karroubi, who, for example, defended privatisation, and those of Ahmadinejad and other conservatives. Workers are opposed to plans for the abolition of state subsidies. However, they remember that this was a plan originally proposed by the ‘reformist’, Mohammad Khatami, during his presidency, as part of the much hated policy of ‘economic readjustment’.

Workers are also well aware that the leaders of the green movement aspire to an Iranian/Islamic version of capitalism, where the bourgeoisie’s prosperity will eventually ‘benefit all’ – an illusion very few workers subscribe to. It should also be noted that the Iranian working class as a modern, urban force is primarily secular, with no allegiance to the Islamic state, and constitutes a growing wing of the protest movement that wants to go beyond adherence to legality and the reform of the current constitution. Kept at arm’s length by leaders of the green movement and yet incapable of asserting its own political line, the working class is facing a dilemma in the current crisis.

3. The opportunist left has diverted the class struggle. However, the Iranian working class is wary of claims made by leaders of the green movement, as well as sections of the opportunist left like Tudeh and the Fedayeen Majority, that the first decade of the Islamic Republic under ayatollah Khomeini constituted the golden years of the revolution. Older worker activists realise that it was the clergy and the Islamic regime that halted the revolution of 1979 and threw it into reverse. The Khomeini years coincided with the worst of the religious repression, and it was not only the radical left who were the victims (thousands were executed), but workers in general. The state was constantly calling on them to make sacrifices, to send their sons to the battle front and produce more for the war economy, while ruthlessly suppressing workers’ independent actions as the work of traitors and spies. So, contrary to the opinion of Tudeh and the Fedayeen Majority, the first decade of Khomeini’s rule – under Moussavi’s premiership, of course – were the dark years for Iranian workers and no amount of rewriting history will change this.

4. The current economic situation is so bad that the working class is unable to fight effectively for anything more than survival. Striking for unpaid wages is symptomatic of this, on top of which there is the threat of losing your job and joining the ranks of the unemployed. In other words, the defensive nature of workers’ struggles hinders their capability to mount a nationwide struggle. Of course, if this argument is correct, the situation will get worse once further sanctions bite. There will be more job losses, more despair amongst the working class.

5. Despite many efforts to create nationwide workers organisations – not only the Committee to set up Independent Workers’ Organisations, but the Network of Iranian Labour Unions (founded in response to the bus drivers’ actions and the imprisonment of their leader, Mansour Osanlou), workers have failed to coordinate protests even on a regional level.

6. The confusion of the left has had a negative impact. Workers have not forgotten how the Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh apologised for and supported the ‘anti-imperialist’ religious state. The majority of the working class was aligned with the left, and so went along with the dismantling of the workers’ shoras (councils) that played such a significant role in the overthrow of the shah’s regime. Later, during Khatami’s presidency (1997-2005), the Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh advocated collaboration with the state-run Islamic factory councils, although the majority of workers considered these anti-trade union organisations, whose main task was to spy on labour activists and support managers in both private and state-owned enterprises. The Shia state claimed to international bodies such as the International Labour Organisation that the councils were genuine trade unions, even though they were set up to destroy labour solidarity within and beyond the workplace. Despite all this the opportunist left not only refused to expose their true function: it called on Iranian workers to join them as a step towards the establishment of mass labour organisations!

Revolutionary left

Over the last few years the left has publicised workers’ demands and organised support for them. Yet there have been big problems. We have seen two distinct approaches regarding the form working class organisation should take. Some advocate the need to unite around the most basic of demands in trade union-type bodies independent of political organisation. Others argue that a struggle within such a united front between reformist and revolutionary currents over strategy and tactics will be inevitable and the revolutionaries will win over the majority of the working because of the superiority of their arguments.

Then there are those who emphasise the need for a different form of organisation altogether: underground cells of class-conscious workers capable of mobilising the most radical sections of the class. Of course, it is possible to combine both options, but proponents of both strategies imply that the two paths are mutually exclusive. Those calling for a workers’ united front label advocates of cells ‘sectarian ultra-leftists’, while the latter allege that those who want to work for the creation of mass, union-type bodies are succumbing to reformism and syndicalism.

While recent attempts amongst sections of the left to discuss these issues should be welcomed, it has to be said that the working class and the left have a long way to go before the ‘tsunami’ of workers’ protests becomes a class-conscious nationwide movement capable of overthrowing the religious state and the capitalist order it upholds.

From Weekly Worker

Ansar-e-Hezbollah Attacks Students


Clashes erupt at the University of Science and Technology. 200 members of Ansar-e-Hezbollah were joined by Basiji students to beat protesting students.


There was a clash on February 6th in Tehran between the University of Science and Technology students and supporters of the regime. Students initiated a general strike around 2:00pm. The chant, “Down with the Islamic Republic” was heard. After the students returned to their dormitories, the 200 members of Ansar-e-Hezbollah and Basiji students attacked approximately 600 students with tear gas and electric batons.

The students chanted: “Down with Dictator,” “Damned Ahmadi, you are a disgrace to Elm-o-Sanat [University],” and “Down with the Basij mercenaries.”

Four of the Basijis were identified as Nima Ebrahimi (third year student), Seyed Mehdi Mahdian (third year student), Reza Mousapour, and Seyed Sajjad Khansari.

It was reported that at least three students were thrown out of dormitory windows. 20 students were taken to an unknown location, while several other students had their identification cards confiscated.

The university was in a virtual lock-down by Ansar-e-Hezbollah, and cell phone communication was purportedly blocked.

This report is sent over the internet by a resident student who witnessed the incident.

Translation by: Siavash Sartipi
Edited by: Jim

خبر فوری: درگیری شبانه در دانشگاه علم و صنعت

امشب، 17 بهمن ماه، حوالی ساعت 21:30، خوابگاه کوی بسیج در انتهای دانشگاه علم و صنعت، شاهد درگیری های مزدوران انصار حزب الله و بسیجی با دانشجویان بود.

دانشجویان دانشکده علوم پایه از حوالی ساعت 14 تحصن کرده بودند. این دانشجویان بعد از نهار ظروف غذایشان را تا در ساختمان ریاست دانشگاه چیده بودند و بعد از آن پایکوبان و با شعار مرگ بر جمهوری اسلامی به سمت دانشکده علوم پایه رفته بودند. بعد از بازگشت دانشجویان به خوابگاه در حوالی ساعت 21:30 بانگ الله اکبر سراسر دانشگاه و خوابگاه را فرا گرفت. از بلوک 4 دود و صدای فریاد دیده و شنیده می شد. در محوطه خوابگاه حدود 200 نفر از مزدوران انصار (؟ با لباس یشمی تیره بدون نقش) مشغول کتک زدن حدود 600 نفر از دانشجویان بودند. دانشجویان بسیجی هم به کمک مزدوران آمده بودند که نام های برخی از آنان عبارت است از: نیما ابراهیمی (ورودی 85)، سید مهدی مهدیان (ورودی 85)، رضا موسی پور و سید سجاد خونساری. آن ها در حالی که چراغ های محوطه را خاموش کرده بودند، با گاز اشک آور و باتوم برقی وحشیانه دانشجویان را می زدند. در این حال دانشجویان شعار های مرگ بر دیکتاتور، احمدی لعنتی ننگ علم و صنعتی و مرگ بر بسیجی جیره خور می دادند. مزدوران دست کم 3 نفر از دانشجویان را از پنجره به بیرون پرتاب کردند و بعد هم از بهداری دانشگاه آن ها را به همراه 10 الی 20 نفر دیگر به مکانی نامعلوم بردند. کارت های دانشجویی برخی از دانشجویان را نیز گرفته اند.

تا نیمه شب همچنان تمام درب های دانشگاه و خوابگاه محاصره است و اجازه خروج به کسی نمی دهند. تلفن های همراه نیز قطع هستند.

خبر از طریق اینترنت از یکی از دانشجویان که خود این صحنه ها را از نزدیک دیده است و در خوابگاه به سر می برد، گرفته شده است.

( خبر از حامیان قاصدان آزادی )

ساعت 1:00 نیمه شب به وقت ایران

Declaration on the formation of the Provisional Workers Council in Isfahan's Steel Company

Workers Council in Isfahan
Workers Council in Isfahan

Isfahan’s Steel Company is and has always been one of the largest industrial complexes in Iran.  Despite this, and although workers  have been involved in industrial action to improve their working conditions,  Iran’s Steel Company workers  have never benefited from the right to form any type of trade union , workers organisation…  to defend their wages and, to pursue their just rights and demands.  In the current situation, as a result of severe economic hardship and the uncertain future, at a time when workers in this complex face many backbreaking pressures, as a group of workers of Steel Company we have decided to take the very first steps in the direction of defending workers right and consolidating our dispersed ranks hereby announcing the formation of the Provisional Council of Isfahan’s Steel Company Workers.   Since this step (the formation of the council) was taken in conditions of underground work, it is not based upon workers’ elections.  That is why the council has given itself the title “provisional” however, as a body it is committed to hold free elections with the participation of all factory workers as soon as suitable conditions arise.  Until such time, this council will endeavor to defend the  rights  of  all workers in this complex and we will  keep fellow workers informed of all our decisions through statements.

The council presents its positions and views as follows: 

1 – The council considers all workers equal and alike.  It believes that both the obvious and hidden discriminations between official workers and workers under contract (those employed directly by the company under contract or through contractor companies) are initiated entirely by managers and decision makers and workers are not responsible for this.  The Council believes that the creation of such discriminations amongst workers is a deliberate policy to divide workers in this complex. 

2 – Council believes that the right to strike is an absolute right of the work force, and, in conditions where the company’s workers have not received their wages (for between two to six months) going on strike is the only means by which the workers can struggle for their demands.  Therefore the council states its solidarity with courageous workers of Ehyagostaran Espadan, Nasooz Azar, Isaargarane-hadid, Nasre Bonyad and all the workers who have gone on strike to fight for the payment of their unpaid wages.   

3 – The councils warns workers to be aware of the delays of official deadlines for payment of their wages and monthly bonuses, There is a  possibility that management is trying to  reduce or abolish monthly bonuses ; that is why workers have every right to go on hunger strike, white strike (working less and disrupting production lines) and finally strike. Such actions are just and legitimate.   

4 – Council finds Plant’s policies of blaming workers for all the severe hardships they face ,  especially when accidents causes workers death or severe injuries leading to  handicap as an inhumane policies and, declares that  the main reasons for safety failures are  severe working conditions for the workforce, worn off equipment, old  technologies and pressure and expedition that the management imposes upon workers to increase production . 

5 –At a time when the official line of poverty in urban areas is declared (by the state) to be 800 thousands Tomans, the council finds maximum income of 400 thousands Tomans per month an obvious oppression towards workers and their families and expects gradual, step by step annihilation of discriminations between official workers and reset of the work force.

 6 – The council believes Privatising the Steel Company complex will have terrible effects upon the workers’ living conditions and their labour and considers the reconstruction period for privatization as definite proof that showed the effects of this policy on workers’ income and conditions; this is an experience we, Iran Steel workers are experiencing every day.

 7 – Billions have been paid for expenses and hundred million Toman contracts made and spent on the  Steel Company Football Team during the last few years at a time when official workers are paid with delay and rest of the workforce has  incomes  below  the poverty line. The Council’s view is that such policies are outrageous.

 8 – Council considers company’s weekly ATISHKAR as a management source use for self flattery and exaggerated claims.  The claim that the company produced and supplied   the railroad for the National Rail Company – is a blatant lie and every worker here is aware of it.  The Council expects ATISHKAR’s content to include reports about workers’ payment conditions and their protests, covering all incidents that cause death and disability, announcing the names of workers dying at work and also monthly reports about work accidents.

 9 – Due to not having aboveboard activities the council asks all workers to create their spontaneous workers nucleuses all over the Steel Company and, it believes without such units formed by workers themselves they will not have a chance develop their struggles and advance in them.  Role of such units is bringing awareness, unity and solidarity among workers and electing leaders for their struggles.  Such units can be formed around team of friends, recreation groups, workers welfare boxes and so forth.

 Fellow workers! We shake your hands in solidarity.

  Provisional Council of Isfahan Steel Company – January 2010

Iran: regime crackdown disguises weaknesses in the face of opposition

“Khameneii, Khamenei, your guardianship (velayat) is dissolved”
“Khameneii, Khamenei, your guardianship is dissolved”

Mehdi Kia co-editor Middle East Left ForumKargar) discusses the mass movement in Iran and the weaknesses of the theocratic regime. This article is from the magazine Permanent Revolution and was written in November.

The coup in Iran, that took place through the June presidential elections, gave the appearance of the regime being firmly in the saddle. But in Iran appearances are deceptive. The large antigovernment demonstrations that took place on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan (18 September), and again on the anniversary of the occupation of the US embassy on 4 November, not only showed an opposition that is alive and well, but one becoming progressively more radical. Whatever happens over the next months the Islamic regime has crossed three bridges that have collapsed behind it. There is no going back. The road can only be downhill all the way to the abyss.

Firstly by excluding a significant portion of the ruling clergy from the corridors of power it has seriously disrupted the accepted practice of power sharing among the numerous factions of the regime. This ability to maintain unity, manoeuver and change tactics, has been a key to the survival of the regime through thirty years of upheaval. How else could a government with an ideology based on a nomadic mercantilism run a moderately advanced capitalist economy without imploding at the first decision forced on it by modern life? Factions were the inevitable product of every major decisionmaking moment over the last three decades. And the ability to keep the regime together while swinging frantically from one policy direction to another was its secret of survival. This regime has survived from one crisis to another through creating structures such as the Expediency Council to paper over the inevitable divisions.1 At one stroke the 2009 election coup removed many of those safety valves.

Secondly the country saw a three-million strong demonstration on June 17 that confronted the entire security apparatus of the country, an apparatus clearly taken off guard at the size of the turnout.

It was the inability of the reformist leadership to seize the moment that saved the government’s neck.

Faced with the masses on the streets, the pasdaran (revolutionary guards) did not risk a confrontation, but bided their time hoping, correctly as it turned out, that the street protests would slowly tire themselves out. Then as the protest gradually lost its momentum the security forces moved in and clamped down until demonstrations of no more than a few hundred people was possible.

Yet the people adapted quickly using “official demonstration days” (such as the anniversary of the occupation of the US embassy) to stage their own counter-demonstrations.

All the while the slogans have become increasingly radical. What began innocuously as “what happened to my vote” went through “Khameneii, Khamenei, your guardianship (velayat) is dissolved”2 to ” “death to the dictator”, “death to Ahmadinejad” and “death to Khamenei”. Taboo after taboo was broken and red line after red line was trampled upon. Nothing is sacred, not even the semi-divine supreme leader. This is a watershed.

The third body blow to the system has been the final discrediting of the reformists. They have been consistently trailing the people, lamely trying to keep up, or begging them to tone it all down.

Their marginalisation can be seen from the radicalisation of the slogans despite their entreaties.

Notwithstanding the desperate efforts of the western media, both print and broadcast, to cast the opposition as a “green” movement whose sole purpose is to overturn the election results, the opposition has increasingly become multicoloured, clearly targeting the entire Islamic regime. The efforts of the reformist movement to “reform” the unreformable was always doomed, but now can be seen in all its contradictions. 


Since September we have witnessed a greater spread of the opposition movement to cities and towns other than Tehran. The November demonstrations also took place in Tabriz, Shiraz, Isfahan, Najaf Abad, Ahwaz, Shahre Kord, and many other towns.

The opposition is also being radicalised. This is shown in the evolution and radicalisation of the slogans, which have progressively marginalised the reformist leadership. The transformation of “what happened to my vote” finally to esteqlal, azadi, jomhuri irani (independence, freedom, Iranian Republic) has profound implications. “Independence, freedom, Islamic Republic” was the pivotal slogan of the 1979 revolution, the first two demands describing the content and the last the institution by which these were supposedly to be realised.

This was a democratic, antiimperialist revolution that was under the illusion that these goals could be achieved through an Islamic regime. By discarding the Islamic Republic but keeping the first two components, the people shouting this slogan today are making a clear link with the revolution of 1979, declaring it unfinished, reiterating its democratic and anti-imperialist aims, and proclaiming the new, secular government that could realise it.

While the slogan is only in its infancy, it has increasingly become more prominent. It betrays the seeds of a true anti-Islamic Republic uprising, that is both democratic and independent of foreign influence.

The slogan was supplemented on the 4 November with “na dowlate coup d’etat; na mennate amrica” (“neither the coup d’état government, nor relying on America”). No “colour revolution” here!3 The radicalisation has gone hand n hand with increasing prominence of left activists. The escalating casualty figures and arrests on the streets goes hand in hand with an increasing street presence of people from the poorer areas of south Tehran. But most striking is the continuous high profile of women activists – battling the basiji thugs in civilian clothes.

We have also witnessed a broadening of the demands to include those of women, of nationalities and other social movements, and of course the right to demonstrate. But in particular we have seen the early steps in bringing together the ever-growing protest movement of the workers with the general anti-regime movement.

Workers are protesting against job losses, real cuts in wages and destitution – a fight for their very survival in the face of neo-liberal policies of mass layoffs and privatisation. There are clear signs that the need to link the two movements is being increasingly recognized by the grass root leadership on both sides. Calls to set up neighbourhood resistance committees by the left are welcome but clearly only a beginning on a long road.

 Broadening and deepening

The old left, both Iranian and non-Iranian, is largely confused about what is happening in Iran today. The protests are either portrayed as a fully-fledged uprising, or more commonly, as another “colour revolution”. It is neither.

What we are witnessing in Iran is not an uprising in any real sense, let alone a revolution. However the seeds of an uprising have been planted, which if tended properly, can grow into an uprising that will unite the various springs of protest into one giant river with a single goal. The slogan of “independence, freedom, Iranian Republic” can provide one such goal. For this to be achieved a number of steps have to be taken. The grass root leaderships of the opposition need to be able to use everything at their disposal to widen, but also deepen, the movement.

To broaden the movement, it is necessary to draw in the disparate social movements, each with their own individual demands, into one huge movement that encompasses these demands. Thus the youth, the women, the nationalities and all the other movements have to be drawn into a co-ordinated single movement. Already youth and women play a critical role in the opposition and have been instrumental in its radicalisation.

The execution of Ehsan Fattahian, a Kurdish left activist, and the imminent execution of Shirko Moarefi another Kurdish activist, shows the regime’s dread of the active involvement of the nationalities of Iran.

The movement must also learn to use the relative safety of the umbrella provided by the reformists without falling under their spell. The fact that the regime cannot slaughter its errant “children” (what it used to call the khodiha – insiders) with the same equanimity and savagery that it can “outsiders” is witnessed by the scale of the current repression, bad as it is compared to previous waves when literally thousands were slaughtered. A vigilant radical leadership will use this umbrella for as long as it provides a cover while pursuing its own independent programme, pushing the movement to adopt tactics that will ensure its deepening and strengthening.

To deepen the movement requires, more than anything, the linking of the workers’ protest movement to the general movement for democracy. The workers’ protest movement has reached levels not seen previously. Most recently oil workers, central to the Iranian economy, have began to flex their muscles.4 In Iran today it is impossible to have a meaningful and lasting democracy without the self-organisation of the working class. The only democracy that has a chance of surviving the inevitable imperialist onslaught must have at its head the only class that is, by its very existence, opposed to imperialism.

Imperial domination functions, and is imposed, through the subjugation of the working class, and only the self-organisation of this class can stand up to this domination. Undoubtedly the working class of Iran is still not organised as a class. This generation of workers has not even experienced real trade unions. Moreover the massive unemployment in the country creates a large constituency of the poor, living on the margins of society in the countless shantytowns surrounding our major cities, providing real organisational challenges.


But perhaps critically an uprising, let alone a revolution, cannot take place without a leadership that can see the road ahead clearly and lead the movement towards its goal. That leadership, which can weave the various strands of the movement into a single party and ensure that the fruits of victory are not handed to the imperialists or to another reactionary regime, as happened after the 1979 Iranian revolution, can only come from the left. Only the left can lead an uprising beyond regime change into a change in the social structure of the country. A change not just in political relations, but in the economic relations of the people.

But for this we need a left in Iran with a vision and the understanding of how to achieve this. Not much of either is visible in what passes for the left today. A “left” that looks up to a regime whose president communicates with a ghost that died 1100 years ago,5 whose regime sacks workers in their millions as part of a neoliberal privatisation policy, whose security forces shoot down peaceful demonstrators and expects it to oppose imperialism, does not deserve that name. To these comrades we say “the sun is out in Iran. Get out from under your umbrellas”. No. We need a left with a vision. Yet that left is being born in Iran as elsewhere, though it has a long way to maturity.

And a final word for that section of the left abroad, like James Petras, Monthly Review and others, who have become an apologist for Ahmadinejad’s regime. We say to you, “if you cannot help us, if you cannot support the struggles in Iran, at least don’t harm us”. By all means oppose imperialist pressures on Iran. Keep up the opposition to sanctions with every weapon at your disposal; sanctions can only harm the people of Iran without damaging the regime. And of course stop any military adventure against Iran. You help us with that and the people of Iran will deal with their regime. It may take time, there may be many more sacrifices, but we will prevail in the end.