Posts Tagged ‘yassamine mather’

May Day Demands

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Iran’s workers will once again use May Day to remind the religious state and ‘reformist’ Islamists alike of their power, writes Yassamine Mather

As May Day approaches, Iranian workers are preparing demonstrations in Tehran and other major cities. Over the last few weeks everyone from ‘reformist’ leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, from employers to labour groups, agrees that the number of workers’ protests and the radicalisation of their slogans marks a new phase in Iran.

Largely unseen by the world media, thousands of strikes, slow-downs and sit-ins by workers challenge the government’s drive to privatise the economy. Iran’s workers are also aware of their role in the overthrow of the shah and once again they will use May Day to remind the religious state and ‘reformist’ Islamists alike of their power. A recent statement by a coalition of workers’ organisations clarifies this: “We millions are the producers of wealth, the wheels of production. Society moves only because we move it” (The Epoch Times March 25).

Since the start of the Iranian new year (March 21) workers have protested against the setting of the official minimum wage at the equivalent of $303 per month. Six independent workers’ organisations have argued that this is a third of the poverty line, which is actually $900. There is also worker opposition to government attempts to abolish subsidies in line with IMF/World Bank diktat. However, what will distinguish this year’s May Day protests will be the political slogans – already seen on posters and leaflets distributed in Tehran and other major cities in Iran.

Many posters feature the slogan, ‘Death to the dictator’, alongside workers’ demands for the right to organise and the right to strike. Statements issued by workers’ organisation include demands for the freedom of all political prisoners and an end to the use of military and paramilitary forces against demonstrators and protesters. Teachers are preparing for a week-long strike starting on May 1 to demand an end to interference by the religious state in the school curriculum, as well as better wages and conditions.

Over the last few years workers attempting to celebrate May Day have been arrested and prosecuted – some have been sentenced to prison and lashings. The prominent labour leader, Mansour Ossanlou, remains in prison, along with other worker activists, such as Ebrahim Maddadi, Farzad Kamangar and Ghaleb Husseini. This May Day we should do all we can to defend these activists and join Iranian workers in their call for the release of all political prisoners in Iran.

The charter of workers’ minimum demands, jointly issued by Iran’s four main independent trade unions, includes:

  • Unconditional recognition of independent workers’ organisations, the right to strike, to organise protests, the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of political organisation.
  • Abolition of the death penalty, and the immediate and unconditional release of jailed workers and other social activists.
  • Immediate increase in the minimum wage based on workers’ input through their representatives in workers’ general assemblies.
  • No abolition of subsidies. All unpaid wages should be paid immediately without any excuses.
  • Job security for workers and all wage-earners; an end to all temporary and so-called ‘blank signature’ contracts; removal of all government-run organisations from the workplace; drafting of a new labour law through direct participation of workers’ representatives elected by their general assemblies.
  • Abolition of all the discriminatory laws against women; the ensuring of full and unconditional equality of women and men in all social, economic, political, cultural and family fields.

From Weekly Worker 815

Opposition to imperialism does not mean support for Ahmadinejad

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Mohammad Reza Shalgouni is a founder-member of the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran (Rahe Kargar) and has been elected as a member of its central committee on a number of occasions. He spent nine years as a political prisoner in Iran under the shah and today is an active supporter of Hands Off the People of Iran. Yassamine Mather interviewed him for the Weekly Worker

Fight for freedom

Fight for freedom

Could you explain the origins of your organisation and the space it occupies on the Iranian left?

Before answering your questions, I see it as my duty to thank your party, and especially the comrades involved with the Weekly Worker, for your coverage of issues concerning the movement of the Iranian people and working class. I hope your efforts can help eradicate the obvious misunderstandings of large sections of the western left.

Rahe Kargar started its activities in the early summer of 1979 and those who founded the organisation were mostly ex-activists of the guerrilla movement, who during their incarceration in the shah’s prisons had come to the conclusion that armed struggle had not only failed to weaken the dictatorship, but that it harmed the relationship between the left and the working class.

Rahe Kargar was one of the first organisations of the left that pointed out the reactionary nature of the Islamic Republic and more importantly deduced from this that the Iranian revolution was defeated once the clergy took power. The clergy was a force that would undoubtedly suppress the movement and independent workers’ organisations, as well as all aspects of modern culture (without which socialism would have no significance). It was with this analysis that, in the midst of widespread general optimism stemming from those who considered the ‘massive popular presence on the streets’ as a definite sign of the victory of the revolution, we drew attention to the threat of fascism and the need to confront its formation.

From our point of view, it was important to pay attention to the characteristics of the new dictatorship and to confront the forthcoming threat. Unlike a substantial section of the left, we considered the clergy and their influence and government as the main threat and, inspired by Marx’s analysis of the ruling classes in England and France in the 1850s, we said that, although the clergy in power is defending the interests of the bourgeoisie against workers and toilers, it has its own interests when it acts as a governing caste. And that this is a result of a Bonapartist equilibrium resulting from the simultaneous weakness of both the bourgeoisie and the working class, the two main classes in society, at a time when neither can take political power.

Rahe Kargar started its existence in opposition to the Islamic Republic and has continued to struggle against this regime. But we have always had clear and firm anti-imperialist positions and we categorically oppose any imperialist intervention in Iran or anywhere in the Middle East. We have always been against the dependence of opposition forces on foreign powers.

From the beginning we opposed the dominant traditional position of the Iranian left, concerning the ‘stage of the revolution’ or defence of the bourgeois democratic revolution, and we have always insisted that a durable democracy in the specific conditions of Iran is impossible without the working class coming to power. That requires independent mass organisation of the class in the political, economic and social arena and this cannot be achieved solely through party organisations. That is why non-party, mass organisations of the workers and toilers can also play an important role. In addition, party organisation might take the form of a number of socialist and workers’ parties, which can form a united workers’ front.

Two other issues that distinguish Rahe Kargar from other leftwing organisations in Iran are:

1. the attention we pay to the issue of nationalities in Iran (a multinational country); we defend the right of the country’s nationalities to self-determination, while emphasising the need for voluntary, democratic unity;

2. the destructive confrontation between tradition and modernity (a form of schizophrenia in our country) and putting an emphasis on the importance of keeping in touch with leftwing religious forces, which maintain a democratic and class understanding of religion and strive for a class alliance of workers and toilers.

In our opinion these are essential conditions for the class unity of the proletariat.

Can you give us an overview of the current situation, including the role of the reformists, the process by which sections of the movement became radicalised and the role of the working class?

In order to understand the dynamics of the current anti-dictatorship movement we must pay attention to a number of issues:

First, although this movement expressed itself in protests against rigged elections, its origins predate June 2009. In other words, in order to understand the situation we must remember that the gatherings in June in support of the reformists had nothing to do with people’s illusions about the elections or the reformists’ programme, but were mainly due to opposition to the institution of the vali faghih (Shia supreme religious leader). In fact these elections were similar to 1997, when people voted for Khatami mainly to confront that institution (the supreme leader wanted Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri to be elected at that time) and it should be said that at least during the last 10-12 years, the majority of Iranians have either participated in or boycotted elections as means of expressing opposition to the ruling dictatorship.

Second, the Islamic Republic has major differences with other dictatorships in the third world. We are dealing with a regime that came out of a mass revolution and for a while it did have considerable influence amongst the masses. The Iran-Iraq war (one of the longest of the 20th century) and political pressure by the United States and its allies throughout most of the last three decades have added to the regime’s need to mobilise its mass base.

However, the Islamic regime is also a rare entity amongst world governments in that the clergy has imposed religion as the dominant force in the state apparatus, denying people’s sovereignty even on a theoretical level and in its constitution. In addition, the Islamic Republic is a plural or multi-centred dictatorship, which so far has not succeeded in destroying its own factions and has not become a dictatorship run by a single individual.

Given the above, elections play a different and a more important role in this system compared to most third world dictatorships. Here the principal organs of power are not electable and elections are limited to the lower echelons within the power structure, which are controlled by the structures nominated by the supreme leader. Elections are above all a means to hide the absolute dictatorship foreseen in the constitution and to mobilise the masses, convincing them of a defining role in state policies. Elections are also a means by which the state organises relations between its own factions (its inner circles) and as a result of this the regime has no alternative but to take its elections seriously. So, once candidates have been screened by the Council of Guardians, there is less vote-rigging, compared with other dictatorships. That is why open electoral fraud disturbs the balance of forces in the regime, not only exposing its absolute despotism, but creating difficulties for regulating relationships between its factions.

Third, the Islamic Republic is a religious dictatorship. In this regime civil repression complements political repression. The regime considers daily and constant control over people’s lives as its raison d’être and this repression creates widespread popular resistance. Throughout the last three decades we have seen a weary, direct and indirect mass resistance to the regime’s efforts to impose sharia law and this has played an important role in the erosion of the regime’s support base. In this confrontation, middle layers of society have played an active role, especially in the major cities. That is why some foreign observers (erroneously) refer to the current protests as the revolt of the middle classes.

Fourth, although at the time of the revolution the religious leadership benefited from considerable influence and this was reflected in the support for the governments stemming from the revolution, the imposition of velayat faghih (guardianship by the supreme leader) created many contradictions, which not only forced the government into constant confrontation with society’s daily life and therefore confrontation with large sections of the population, but also created problems within the clerical hierarchy and the religious establishment.

These factors led to a situation where the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic was seriously challenged (in both the political and religious spheres) especially after Khomeini’s death and this precipitated the loss of it support base. In fact the appearance of the reformists (who mainly came from the ‘left’ faction of the regime, or the ‘imam’s line’ group in the first decade of the existence of the Islamic regime) and their victory in the 1987 presidential elections, has no other significance but a sharpening of this crisis of legitimacy. Efforts over the last 12 years by the office of the supreme leader to control the influence of government reformists were mainly attempted through the strengthening of organs under the direct control of the leader and rendering meaningless elected bodies. All this broke down the equilibrium that had previously existed, and it is no coincidence that the crises of the political and religious legitimacy of the regime have coincided.

The office of Iran’s supreme leader is not only in total confrontation with the people, but at the same time most of the Shia ayatollahs who are accepted as sources of religious guidance are trying to distance themselves from him. The truth is that the traditional Shia religious governance is a form of republic (in the way Engels refers to the Protestant church as the ‘republican church’ and the Catholic church as the ‘Royalist church’), but now vali faghih is trying to change it into a royalist system, making the independence of centres of guidance impossible.

Fifth, the vali faghih system is keeping all the real levers of power directly under the control of the supreme leader. In fact under the current constitution his absolute authority is unprecedented even in comparison to absolute kings. As far as religious matters were concerned, even the kings had to accept religious authority, whilst in Iran all the power of both religious and state authorities is concentrated in the hands of one leader. Given the needs of the revolutionary period and later the requirements of war, the first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, tried to present himself as the embodiment of popular will, but during the last two decades, as the crisis surrounding the legitimacy of the regime increased, Ali Khamenei has been forced to use levers of power under his control to neutralise the general and inevitable inclinations of the people and work actively to destroy them.

As a result of this absolute ‘royalist’ power embedded in the constitution, the regime has been recognised as a naked dictatorship by ordinary Iranians. Nowadays all its armed forces are under the direct control of the supreme leader and the president cannot even send a policeman to someone’s door without his permission. The Revolutionary Guards are not only in charge of national security: they also control many of the country’s major economic activities. Today, Iran’s economy is not just divided between the private and the public sector: there is a third, very powerful sector controlled by foundations under the direct influence of the supreme leader – even the parliamentary accounts committee has no control over it. According to some estimates, the resources under the control of these ‘foundations’ account for a quarter of the country’s internal gross production. The broadcasting authority is a state monopoly under the direct control of the vali faghih. The supreme leader is in charge of one fifth of the country’s oil income.

The coincidence of the economic crisis with the anti-dictatorship movement is a sign of the explosive potential of the current situation in Iran. During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, despite all the talk of ‘protecting the disinherited’, Iran’s economy has reached a more critical stage.

Unemployment is increasing at a frightening rate and, according to some estimates, amongst youth it has reached 70%. It should be noted that the 15-30 age group constitutes about 35% of the population. Before the elections, inflation was above 25%, according to figure released by Iran’s Central Bank (even after the manipulation of statistics), and despite the government’s denials it has gone up in recent months. In the first three months of Ahmadinejad’s presidency the cost of housing in most major Iranian cities rose by 1,500% and the cost of housing took up around 75% of the income of an average working class family.

Contrary to the illusions of some left groups outside Iran, Ahmadinejad’s so-called ‘pro-disinherited’ policies played an important role in worsening the structural crisis of Iran’s economy. The first term of the Ahmadinejad presidency coincided with an unprecedented rise in the price of oil and he spent a substantial part of the country’s oil income, as well as the country’s foreign exchange reserves, strengthening the social position of vali faghih. By injecting most of these resources into projects that had no economic value and only benefited the regime’s inner circles, the government created unprecedented inflation, the main burden of which fell on the shoulders of workers and toilers. It is enough to remember that, according to Ahmad Tavakoli (head of the research centre of the Islamic Majles, and one of the most hard-line Principlist-conservative factions of MPs), 46% of all the the ‘quick turnaround’ policies claimed by Ahmadinejad to confront unemployment never existed. In other words, all these claims were a cover for giving credit and low-interest loans (at times no-interest loans) to close associates of the vali faghih. Of course, had it been any different, it would have been surprising, because corruption is endemic in Iran’s Islamic Republic. In fact this regime has all the preconditions for relentless, institutional corruption. It is a rentier oil state and a brutal religious dictatorship, depriving non-believers of any rights.

Right now, according to figures released by the Central Bank, the country’s banking system is facing total bankruptcy, because the banks have provided 50,000 billion tomans (around $50 billion) in non-returnable credit, lost in handouts to the regime’s inner circles. Now, the banking system cannot even provide loans to small production units desperate for credit.

According to some evaluations, around 35% of the population live below the absolute poverty line. This means they face hunger and constant malnutrition. In addition to all this, as a result of the shortage of resources and considerable drop in oil income, the government has been forced to implement sudden measures to abolish subsides for all essential commodities, starting with the energy sector. The implementation of this policy will lead to a jump in the rate of inflation and increase poverty and destitution, making the lives of workers and toilers unbearable.

In view of all this, in my opinion the conditions are not suitable for reform. In general, reforms can only be achieved when the state is reasonably stable and the population is relatively calm and accepts the existing conditions. However, not only do people consider their situation unbearable, not only is there a lively protest movement, but the state is also at breaking point. In such conditions any retreat by the government will only encourage the people. That is why the reformists have little chance of gaining from the situation.

In reality, the electoral fraud, the removal of many reformists from power and the arrest of many of their leading figures was no more than a manifestation of the open bankruptcy of the reformist discourse in our country. It was not the reformists who rebelled against the vali faghih: it was the supreme leader who practically threw them out of the inner circles of the religious state.

In the midst of all this, the emergence of a self-instigated movement against electoral fraud propelled the reformists to the leadership of mass protests. That is the contradictory situation created by the rigged elections – reformists managed to lead the protest at the very time when the bankruptcy of the reform programme had become obvious. Clearly this situation cannot last long. We are now in the post-reformist era and the best proof of this is the growing gap between the slogans of the protest movement and the reformist discourse. The demonstrations that started with slogans like ‘Where is my vote?’ have now moved on to slogans such as ‘Death to the dictator’, ‘Death to Khamenei’, and even ‘Death to the principle of velayat faghih’.

The people’s protest movement started under reformist leadership for two obvious reasons:

1. the first protests were against election fraud and it was inevitable that candidates who lost should take pole position within them;

2. in periods of severe repression, protesters usually rely on some sort of cover to protect them – a cover that can reduce a little bit the cost of protest.

In any case, although the reformist programme was clearly bankrupt, the fact that reformists flocked to the ranks of the protest demonstrates the crisis within the regime. A phenomenon which is a necessary precondition for a revolutionary situation. Today, the presence of reformists on the side of the popular movement is a sign that the ruling order’s position is untenable. At a time when the regime cannot even tolerate reformists who abide by the velayat faghih constitution, we can see a sign of absolute dictatorship and despotism, reducing the regime’s chances of survival. Clearly this situation cannot last for a long time. However the reformists themselves have reached the end of the road – caught between the velayat faghih system and the anti-dictatorship movement of the masses, they are so hemmed in, they have lost the ability to take any initiative.

The brutal, repressive reaction of the regime in confronting the protests was one of the most important factors in the radicalisation of the protest movement over the last eight months. As I mentioned before, the protests against rigged elections (which was indirectly a protest against velayat faghih) disrupted the calculations of the regime. They had not expected mass popular interest in the elections and had even organised TV debates between candidates (a rare event in the Islamic Republic) to try and inject some enthusiasm and show the elections to be a real contest.

In the three weeks before the elections support for reformists candidates became so widespread that Ahmadinejad’s defeat was obvious to everyone. It was in this atmosphere that the vali faghih system, seeing a repetition of the 1997 elections, declared two days before the elections, via the Revolutionary Guards, that a ‘velvet revolution’ was being planned by western powers. On the day of the election itself the Revolutionary Guards staged a military manoeuvre in Tehran to stop this alleged attempt. The election headquarters of reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi was ransacked by plain-clothed security forces.

When the authorities saw the angry reaction of the masses after the announcement of the unbelievable results, they attacked Tehran University on the night of the election, killing a number of people and injuring more than a hundred. And again on June 15, when three million people were marching peacefully against the rigged results, they opened fire on defenceless protesters, killing more people and arresting hundreds. After that came the torture and rape of young boys and girls in prisons, and the death of more than a hundred political prisoners in detention. Illusions in reformism rapidly evaporated and slogans now clearly proclaimed opposition to all the main organs of the current order.

Throughout the last eight months, the shameless Goebbels-like lies of the regime has aggravated the situation. For example, they shamelessly claimed that Neda Agha Soltan, the young girl killed by the security forces, had died through a plot by a BBC reporter, even though witnesses to the attack arrested her killer and confiscated his security ID. When Massoud Ali Agha, a physics professor and supporter of Moussavi, was killed, they claimed he was a nuclear scientist and so Mossad had targeted him. All this, plus the escalating repression, has played a crucial role in reducing the reformists to a forgotten phenomenon and radicalising the youth (the main force behind the anti-dictatorship movement).

Contrary to the opinion of those who consider the movement ‘middle class’, there can be no doubt that workers and toilers have played a very important role in the current protests. For example, how can one say that the June 15 demonstration was only middle class, when Tehran’s mayor admits three million people joined the protest (in a city with a maximum of 12 million inhabitants). Of course, the workers were not raising their own slogans in this demonstration, but the same is true of other sections, such as women and the youth, whose participation in the protests is not in doubt.

We should not forget that we are currently dealing with an anti-despotic movement which is facing brutal repression. In such movements, political protests take the form of sporadic demonstrations, fighting here, fleeing there, and under such conditions workers cannot get involved in independent political struggle at their workplace or in the districts where they live. This is a point made by Rosa Luxembourg in her summation of the Russian uprising of 1905. The experience of the February revolution in Iran against the shah confirms this. In that uprising there was no sign of independent workers’ protests until the massacre of September 1978. It was only after that event (the police opened fire on demonstrators, killing large numbers), when street actions became more difficult and dangerous, that protests moved from the street to workplaces and gradually we witnessed important workers’ strikes. And, of course, at that time, until very close to February 1979, most of the workers’ strikes only raised economic and trade union demands.

At present too, despite all the arrests and repression of labour activists, workers’ protests in support of their demands has manifestly increased. A review of workers’ protests over the last eight months and a comparison of these with the same period last year leaves no doubt that the workers’ movement is on the rise. The least one can say is that without a movement based on workers, toilers and the poor (who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of the country) the current anti-dictatorship movement will get nowhere and in fact it is even difficult to envisage its continuation. Of course, the elimination of subsidies on essential goods (which is due to start in the first weeks of the new Iranian year, beginning on March 21) will no doubt lead to major workers’ protests and this can create suitable conditions for the development of class-consciousness.

We must also remember that under dictatorships people do not believe any of the government’s propaganda and in general do not consider the enemy of the government as their enemy (they are more likely to consider them as friends). In other words, that famous saying, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’, gains legitimacy. In today’s Iran, where the regime’s entire propaganda is geared towards opposition to the United States, public opinion against the US is weaker than in most Islamic countries. A couple of months ago when Obama was discussing the nuclear issue with the regime, in one of the demonstrations people were shouting, “Obama, Obama, you are either with them or with us!”

However, this does not mean people are oblivious to the dangers of military action or economic sanctions. One can say with certainty that the majority of Iranians are opposed to economic sanctions and any military action against their country. In particular, the US military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the general massacre and destruction it has created in our two neighbouring countries has had a profound effect on public opinion in Iran. There are even signs (unfortunately) that Iranians support the regime’s nuclear programme and would not even mind if their country possessed nuclear weapons. In fact the painful experience of the bombing of cities during the Iran-Iraq war and especially the indifference of western states towards the use of chemical weapons by Saddam’s regime during that war created a sense of nationalist impotence which the regime tries to use. It is no coincidence that at present the state raises the nuclear issue in order to divide the masses.

How optimistic are you regarding the future of this movement? What are the prospects of the working class putting its stamp on any regime that follows the defeat of the theocracy?

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for this movement. In fact, even if this movement dies down today and its continuation becomes impossible, what it has achieved so far will have historic consequences.

The events of the last eight to nine months have left the Islamic regime with no future. Even if it survives for a while, it will never recover from the fatal blows it has suffered at the hands of this mass uprising. The young generation, the main motor of these protests, did not witness the 1979 revolution or the bloody repression of the first decade of this regime and until recently it was preoccupied with minor changes and certainly not thinking about social revolution. This generation is now irreversibly against the very existence of the Islamic regime.

There is no doubt that during the last three decades Iran’s economy has fared worse than other countries in the region. For example, in 1977 (a year before the revolution), Iran’s gross national product per capita was 60% more than Turkey and five times more than Egypt’s. Now Iran’s GNP, despite its oil income, is only 14% ahead of Turkey, and just twice that of Egypt.

The civil repression imposed by the regime will have consequences that will be with us for a long time. It is enough to remember that Iranian girls have been deprived of participation in sport for three decades and have not taken part in any major international sporting competition. The damage resulting from this is a tragedy that is occasionally referred to even within the pages of the regime’s own educational journals. The reason is that, according to the clerics, girls’ sporting activity must not be seen from people in neighbouring buildings, for example, and this makes any form of sport in girls’ schools impossible. The absence of any rights for women has turned half of the society into second-class citizens, as far as law is concerned.

Around 15% of the country’s population – the Sunnis, who are mainly Kurds, Baluchis and Turkmens – face double deprivation because of their religious beliefs and this endangers the country’s territorial unity. It is a weapon in the hands of the US and its allies.

For all its claims of supporting the ‘disinherited’, Iran’s Islamic regime is thoroughly corrupt, it is a parasitic state, pursuing brutal, anti-worker policies. According to many estimates, the current line of poverty in Iran stands at 800,000 tomans ($800), while the official minimum wage (which is often ignored and workers are paid less) is 300,000 tomans ($300). More than 80% of workers have temporary jobs and those in workplaces of less than 10 employees (ie, the majority of Iranian workers) are officially exempt from any labour legislation. For them it is the law of the jungle. Even those activists who demand the establishment of independent workers’ organisations or workers who fight for payment of unpaid wages are arrested and tortured.

It is revealing to compare the government’s attitude towards capitalists and managers compared to its attitude to workers. Last year when the government announced a two percent rise in tax for bazaar merchants, it faced a strike by shop owners in the Tehran bazaar and the state retreated immediately.

All this shows that the current anti-dictatorship movement is the only hope for improving the plight of the working class and ordinary people in Iran. The continuation of this movement and expansion of its scope has created a suitable atmosphere for raising class-consciousness and the formation of independent workers’ organisations and no doubt will improve political conditions in favour of workers to such an extent that it will, in the words of the Persian proverb, learn in one night what usually takes a century. Of course, if the regime creates such an atmosphere of fear where workers’ participation in political and economic protests becomes more difficult and costly, there is a danger that the struggle will take a violent form, when the role of organisations associated with foreign powers would increase, initiatives from below by the working class would fade away and reactionary, anti-democratic forces would gain the upper hand.

Let us not forget that, unlike the shah’s regime, Iran’s Islamic Republic has many powerful enemies throughout the world who seek to find allies amongst the forces opposed to the regime. No doubt such a scenario will harm democratic and socialist forces within the movement and it will give the regime an excuse to link the people’s legitimate struggles with foreign powers. In my opinion the worst scenario in the current situation would arise if groups associated with foreign powers gained more influence within the opposition, because even if they do not manage to stifle the protests they will divert it from its democratic direction.

However, given the current awareness amongst social movements inside Iran, especially amongst the youth over the last 10-12 years, one can be hopeful that the anti-dictatorship movement will not be diverted from such a path. Of course, liberal discourse still dominates Iran’s political scene and the left has a steep hill to climb to overcome this problem. But if the protest continues and takes a revolutionary path, as the role of the working class increases, the conditions for the dominance of socialist thought will develop.

How do you see radical change in Iran linking in with political developments in the region as a whole?

The coming to power of the clergy in the February 1979 uprising in Iran undoubtedly played a significant role in the development of Islamic movements in the region. In my opinion, the overthrow of the Islamic Republic in Iran can play an important part in weakening the influence of Islamic movements.

The reality is that Iran’s Islamic experience is about 10 years older than other countries and so disillusionment with Islamism came much earlier than in other Muslim countries. The overthrow of the Iranian regime could increase that process in other countries, even though it might not necessarily lead to the coming to power of defenders of socialism in our country. Given the current situation in Iran and the region, such a perspective is possible.

It should be pointed out that, although liberal discourse is still powerful in Iran, the economic crisis engulfing world capitalism, the destructive effects of US military intervention, the bankruptcy of corrupt, pro-western regimes in the region and the fact that they are not tolerated – all this has created suitable conditions where, with the demise of Islamism, toilers in the region might turn towards more enlightened horizons. We are now witnessing the Islamic movements subsiding and if US military interventions stopped this decline would be faster. In none of these countries would liberalism be capable of responding to the stacked up problems of poverty, dictatorship and obscurantism, nor can it benefit from mass support amongst workers and toilers.

Right now in two key countries of the region, Egypt and Turkey, a powerful working class movement is rising and if in Iran the anti-dictatorship movement succeeds in strengthening the working class left (and in my opinion there is a strong possibility of that happening) it may be that a ‘strategic bloc’ would be created in these three key countries. A strong left in Iran, Egypt and Turkey would be in a good position to oppose not only the swagger about the ‘free market’ and neoliberalism, but also the obscurantist slogans of Islamism. In reality both currents are not as attractive as they used to be in the Middle East and if the left can learn from past mistakes and take up a democratic, radical, mass-orientated discourse, our region can move in a direction similar to Latin America.

The principal danger for the formation of such a perspective in our region is the destructive policies of the US. For example, Nato’s plans in Afghanistan and Pakistan might lead to the disintegration of both countries – a phenomenon that will be as destructive as an earthquake for the whole region, and especially Iran. Countries in the region have strong religious, tribal and cultural links and Iran has more than 2,500 kilometres of common borders with these Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tribal strife in Kirkuk could heat up dangerous nationalist strife in Iraq, strengthening such arguments in the region and producing disastrous consequences.

What are the role and tasks of the international solidarity movement with those fighting the Iranian regime?

Undoubtedly the solidarity of western organisations and parties with the Iranian people has an important subjective effect on political and social activists inside the country.

Of course, we must have a realistic understanding of this influence. The truth is that the Islamic regime has a monopoly when it come to the radio and television that is available to all and especially the lower classes. These media present everything in a distorted manner, with Goebbels-like lies, and constantly make use of the support of some western left groups who praise the regime’s anti-imperialism! This creates a certain hatred of the ‘international’ left amongst the population. Let there be no doubt: any support for the regime is met with nothing but animosity from the people it suppresses. Satellite radio and television, available to around 20% of the population, is mainly controlled by the US, UK or sections of the opposition directly or indirectly connected to foreign powers and most of them are anti-left and combine opposition to the regime with propaganda for the stance of the US and its allies.

Expressions of support for the working class movement in Iran from international progressive, leftwing organisations is mainly possible through the internet. However, although it is the most important means of communication for the majority of anti-dictatorship activists, inevitably it has a limited number of users – an optimistic estimate would be that 10% of the population has access to the internet.

Despite these limitations, though, support for the anti-despotic movement and, of course, for worker struggles plays an important role in strengthening the left and attracting the country’s youth towards socialist ideas. Let us not forget that there are already favourable conditions for the re-establishment of a strong worker-socialist movement and clear positions taken by socialist forces in the west help bring neoliberalism as well as Islamist ideas into disrepute. In my opinion the anti-war, anti-sanctions movement abroad undoubtedly has a positive influence on the Iranian people, because, as I said before, the overwhelming majority of Iranians do not want to see a repetition of the Iraqi or Afghan experience in their own country, and they have seen how it is ordinary people who suffer the burden of sanctions (Iran has already had three decades of sanctions).

But the important issue is that opposition to the imperialist policies of the US and its allies must not lead to support for the Iranian government. Unfortunately the position of certain ‘anti-imperialist’ forces in the west is as damaging as the stance of those who support military intervention and sanctions. It is vital to oppose war and sanctions, but it must never take the form of supporting the dictatorial, bloodthirsty and obscurantist Islamic Republic. We must not forget that any support for the Islamic regime discredits leftwing and socialist ideas and in practice strengthens the hand of the US and its allies. Whether they like it or not, leftwing apologists for the regime actually help strengthen the imperialist, pro-capitalist camp in our country.

Our readers have followed Rahe Kargar’s stance on many issues for over two decades. Could you explain the reasons for last year’s split in your organisation?

The reason for the split was that for quite a while a group of people had tended towards a kind of reformist anarchism and latterly they wanted to impose their anti-organisation model on the rest of us.

Of course, they were only a minority, but others who did not necessarily agree with them politically ended up supporting them organisationally, creating conditions which would have meant nothing but dissolution. This made coexistence in the same organisation impossible. Amongst the comrades who had more formulated ideas were those who followed an interpretation of John Holloway’s ‘change the world without taking power’. But they propagate a caricature version of this, portraying any organisation as stifling and they are opposed not only to the notions of a working class party and state, but even to trade unions and other workers’ organisations.

The conflict started around an article written by one of the comrades regarding the establishment of independent trade unions in Iran. This comrade warned workers that such an organisation would lead to hierarchical structures and claimed that unions, which limit their politics to economic issues, would benefit the liberals and pave the way for conciliation with capitalists. Those responsible for the website and the organisation’s paper, followed our internal rules and put this article in the ‘point of view’ section of the website and some comrades considered this discriminatory. The reality is that the Iranian working class is actually fighting to establish independent organisations and it is not our policy to leave the working class defenceless.

Another difference arose around Palestine, starting with Israel’s attack on Gaza. They thought the condemnation of Israel’s crimes must be expressed in such a way that it would not strengthen Hamas and, although this was not clearly expressed, they wanted us to condemn both sides (Israel and Hamas) equally. Our position was that Israel’s crimes must be condemned unconditionally and firmly.

Two wrongs don’t make a right: hypocrisy and dangers of Ahmadinejad’s nuclear programme

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Yassamine Mather
Yassamine Mather

Yassamine Mather looks at the politics, hypocrisy and dangers of Ahmadinejad’s nuclear programme:

There seems to be no end to the confrontation between western governments and Iran’s Islamic regime over the nuclear issue.

In the latest phase of the continuing saga, on February 23, a day after the announcement by the head of Iran’s nuclear programme that the country will build two new uranium enrichment facilities, Iran wrote to the International Atomic Energy Agency claiming that it is ready to hand over the bulk of its stockpile in a simultaneous exchange for fuel rods for its research reactor, adding that the exchange must take place on Iranian soil. This falls short of the demands by the so-called ‘five plus one’ (United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany). They had demanded that Iran’s enriched uranium is first processed and then converted into fuel rods in Russia and France, returning the enriched fuel rods to Iran within a year.

Of course there are clear reasons why both sides need the confrontation to continue. For the US it is a question of asserting its authority in the Middle East and reducing Iran’s own political influence in the region – an influence which, ironically, has been considerably strengthened by the establishment of the Shia occupation government in Iraq and the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Barack Obama will not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations for the same reasons that George W Bush did not do so: partly because such a raid could not hope to stop the Iranian nuclear programme for more than a few months, and partly because Iran threatens retaliation against Israel and US troops, via its allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon, not to mention the fact that such an attack might lead to a rise in the price of oil.

For the Iranian government, besieged by protesters in all its major cities, the continued threat of war and the imposition of further sanctions is a godsend. It can use sanctions as an excuse for the disastrous economic situation, for further attacks on workers’ wages and for accusing all its opponents of being agents of foreign powers and increasing repression against the opposition as part of ‘measures to strengthen national defence’ in its war against US and UK.

The latest IAEA report, published on February 19, was the first to be produced under the new IAEA director, general Yukiya Amano, who replaced former chief Mohamed ElBaradei last year. The report’s tone and its conclusion differ considerably from those produced under ElBaradei.

Last week’s document implies the agency suspects Tehran might already be trying to develop a nuclear warhead and has begun enriching uranium to higher levels, theoretically bringing it closer to what is required for an atomic bomb. In addition, a worrying section of the report states: “On February 14 2010, Iran, in the presence of agency inspectors, moved approximately 1,950 kg of low enriched UF6 [uranium hexafluoride is a chemical compound consisting of one atom of uranium combined with six atoms of fluorine] from FEP [fuel enrichment plant] to the PFEP [pilot fuel enrichment plant] feed station. The agency inspectors sealed the cylinder containing the material to the feed station.”

If it is true that Iran has moved 94% of its enriched uranium from underground, one could argue that this is a deliberate provocation added to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s order for uranium to be enriched to 20%. Such a provocation would aim to encourage Israeli military attacks in a desperate attempt to cling to power. Clearly Israel and more recently Saudi Arabia do not seem to share US reservations about such military action. Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak is in the US this week for ‘ talks on halting Iran’s nuclear drive’, prompting this headline in the Washington Post: “Prepare for war with Iran – in case Israel strikes”. Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has also renewed his call for the ‘international community’ to impose an oil embargo on Iran, if necessary without UN security council approval.

When Israeli leaders further inflame the hysteria over Iran’s nuclear industry they are without doubt being two-faced. Israel refuses to sign up to the nuclear proliferation treaty (NPT) and therefore is not obliged to report on its own arsenal of nuclear weapons or allow the inspection of its nuclear facilities. Most analysts agree that it has up to 400 nuclear warheads. Israel refuses to confirm or deny this. With that in mind, on September 18 2009, IAEA agreed a resolution which “expresses concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities, and calls upon Israel to accede to the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards …”

That is why attempts by the US and the European Union to stop Iran obtaining nuclear technology are hypocritical. IAEA’s protocols which are supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation are a one way street. Countries which possess sufficient nuclear weaponry to destroy the world several times over (and are continuing to add to their arsenals) are laying down the law to others – or some of them. The US and its EU allies have for decades refused to even admit that Israel has nuclear weapons.

Ironically Iran’s current status as the regional ‘threat’ is itself a direct consequence of the US-UK invasion of Iraq and the coming to power of a Shia, pro-Iran government in Baghdad. The recent pronouncements by the US and Israeli governments regarding Iran’s nuclear programme are more to do with Iran’s influence in the region, its close relations with the Maleki government in Iraq and the consequences of such influence in the forthcoming ‘elections’ in that country. That is why anti-war activists must condemn constant threats of military action against Iran and oppose sanctions.

However, two wrongs don’t make a right and just because the US is opposed to Iran’s nuclear policy, the left inside and outside Iran cannot take an opportunist position of defending nuclear proliferation in Iran while opposing it in the rest of the world. In embarking on an unprecedented programme of privatisation, accompanied by systematic non-payment of workers’ wages, including in the state sector, Iran’s rulers have constantly blamed financial difficulties. Many in Iran are questioning the wisdom of spending astronomic sums purchasing nuclear technology (often on the black market) by a regime that claims to be so short of funds.

Any support by the anti-war movement for the current rulers in Iran will be in direct opposition to the views of ordinary Iranians who are victims of the repressive policies of this regime, and to millions of Iranian workers who are victims of a corrupt Islamic government’s privatisation policies. We must show our solidarity by supporting the majority of Iran’s population, its workers, and dispossessed – against international capital, against the warmongers, but also against the repressive Islamist regime.

From Weekly Worker

‘Reformists’ fear revolution

Thursday, January 14th, 2010
 
Repression and Resistance  Repression and Resistance

 The attempt by the two wings of the Iranian regime to shelve their differences is unlikely to defuse the mass movement, writes Yassamine Mather 

More than two weeks after the demonstrations of December 27 2009, the political repercussions of these events, and the reaction to the anger and radicalism of the protesters, continue. Clearly now no-one, from the government to the ‘reformists’, to the revolutionary opposition, has any doubt that the current protests are no longer about who should be the ‘president’ of the Islamic Republic, but represent a serious challenge to the very existence of the religious state.

Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, as they commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Mohammed in 680AD. In December 2009 it coincided with the seventh day following the death of a clerical critic of the regime, ayatollah Montazeri. Throughout Iran hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets with slogans against the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. When security forces attacked, the crowds fought back. Tehran was “covered in thick smoke from fires and tear gas” and there was “hand-to-hand combat between security forces and the protesters,” with reports of street battles in other major cities.1 For the first time in the last 30 years, many women came out into the streets to join the demonstrations wearing no headscarves or hijabs.

At a number of locations in Tehran security forces were forced to retreat, as demonstrators burnt police vehicles and bassij posts and erected barricades. There are videos showing instances where police and bassij were captured and detained by demonstrators and three police stations in Tehran were briefly occupied. Demonstrators also attacked Bank Saderat in central Tehran, setting it on fire.

The government’s reaction was predictable. Since December 27 bassij and pasdaran (revolutionary guards) have been unleashed to impose further repression. Hundreds of people have been incarcerated. The summary arrest of leftwing and worker activists, the death sentences issued against left political prisoners, the sacking of workers already in prison are part of a deliberate attempt by the regime to impose an atmosphere of terror.

Ultra-conservative clerics have also called for the arrest and execution of ‘reformist’ leaders. In a speech on January 9 the supreme leader told government security forces and the judiciary to act decisively against “rioters and anti-government demonstrators”.

Conservative divisions

Despite the bravado of Khamenei, there are clear signs that the demonstrations of December 27 have divided the conservatives further on how to respond to the protests. While supporters of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly call for more arrests and even the execution of political opponents, the ‘principlist’ faction2 within parliament is preaching caution.

On January 9, a parliamentary committee publicly blamed Tehran’s former prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, a close ally of Ahmadinejad, for the death of three prisoners arrested during anti-government protests in June 2009. The committee found that Mortazavi had authorised the imprisonment of 147 opposition supporters and 30 criminals in a cell measuring only 70 square metres in Kahrizak detention centre. The inmates were frequently beaten and spent days without food or water during the summer.

Ali Motahhari, a prominent fundamentalist parliamentarian, told the weekly magazine Iran Dokht: “Under the current circumstances, moderates should be in charge of the country’s affairs.” He suggested Ahmadinejad should also be held accountable for the deaths in Kahrizak and for fuelling the post-election turmoil. Iranian state television is broadcasting debates between ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ conservatives, in which Ahmadinejad is blamed by some for causing the crisis.

There are two reasons for this dramatic change in line:

1. The December 27 demonstrations were a turning point, in that both conservatives and ‘reformists’ came to realise how the anger and frustration of ordinary Iranians with the political and economic situation is taking revolutionary forms.

2. The principlists are responding to a number of ‘proposals’ by leading ‘reformists’ as a last attempt to save the Islamic Republic. Fearful of revolution, ‘reformist’ leaders from the June 2009 presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi to former president Mohammad Khatami have made conciliatory statements, and the moderate conservatives have responded positively to these approaches.

‘Reformist’ compromise

In a clear sign that ‘reformists’ have heard the cry of the revolution, Moussavi’s initial response to the Ashura demonstrations was to distance himself from the protests, emphasising that neither he nor Mehdi Karroubi had called for protests on that day. His statement on January 1 entitled ‘Five stages to resolution’ (of the crisis) was a signal to both his supporters and opponents that this was truly the last chance to save the Islamic regime from collapse.

Western reportage of the statement concentrated on his comment, “I am ready to sacrifice my life for reform.” Of course, Iranians are well known for their love of ‘martyrdom’, from Ashura itself to the Fedayeen Islam in 1946,3 to the Marxist Fedayeen (1970s-80s). Iranians have been mesmerised by the Shia concept of martyrdom, inherited from Sassanide ideals, 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 who is putting his life on the line for the cause of ‘reform’ and compromise!

His five-point plan is seen as a compromise because it does not challenge the legitimacy of the current president and “presents a way out of the current impasse” in order to save the Islamic Republic, basically demanding more freedom for the Islamic ‘reformist’ politicians, activists and press, as well as accountability of government forces, while reaffirming his allegiance to the constitution of the Islamic regime, as well as the existing “judicial and executive powers”. The preamble to the proposal explains very well Moussavi’s message to the supreme leader and the conservative faction: it is not too late to save the regime, but this could be our last chance.

It reads: “Today the situation of the country is like an immense roaring river, where massive floods and various events have led to its rising and then caused it to become silted. The solution to calm down this great river and clear its water is not possible in a quick and swift action. Thinking of these kinds of solutions that some should repent and some should make deals and there should be some give and take to solve this great problem is in practice going off the track … I also believe that it is still not too late and our establishment has the power to accomplish this important task, should it have insight and a respectful and kind view toward all of the nation and its layers.”

This statement was followed on January 4 by a ‘10-point proposal’ from the self-appointed ‘ideologues’ in exile of Iran’s Islamic ‘reformist’ movement: the former Pasdar, Akbar Ganji (nowadays introduced on BBC and CNN as a “human rights activist!”), Abdolkarim Soroush, Mohsen Kadivar, Abdolali Bazargan and Ataollah Mohajerani.4

Fearful that the Moussavi plan will be seen by many as too much of a compromise, the group of five call for the resignation of Ahmadinejad and fresh elections under the supervision of a newly established independent election commission to replace that of the Guardian Council. In the last few days both Khatami and another former president, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, have publicly declared their support for the compromise, while condemning “radicals and rioters”. Khatami went further than most, insulting demonstrators who called for the overthrow of the Islamic regime.

All in all, it has been a busy two and a half weeks for Iran’s ‘reformists’, terrified by the radicalism of the demonstrators and desperate to save the clerical regime at all cost. Inevitably the reformist left, led by the Fedayeen Majority, is tailing 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 addresses the most basic democratic demand of the Iranian people: separation of state and religion. A widely distributed leaflet and web post inside Iran entitled ‘Who is the leader of the current protest movement in Iran?’ refers to comments made by ayatollah Taleghani 31 years ago,5 at the height of the revolutionary movement. Taleghani, faced with a similar question, replied that it was the shah who led the protest movement because the repression he imposed and his inability to compromise caused it to move forward day by day. The leaflet concludes that the current force leading the movement is supreme leader Khamenei, who by his words and actions is fuelling the revolutionary fervour.

Working class response

In every event Iranians see real and imaginary parallels with the 1978-79 uprising that led to the shah’s downfall. Last week the publication of Khamenei’s alleged escape plans and the revelations that senior clerics had arranged to send their fortunes abroad to avoid sanctions and the consequences of an uprising reminded Iranians of January 1979, when the shah and his entourage were busy making similar arrangements.

The Iranian left is not immune to such nostalgia. Arguments about the ‘principal contradiction’ and ‘stages of revolution’ seem to dominate current debates. While some Maoists argue in favour of a ‘democratic stage’ of the revolution, citing the relative weakness of the organised working class, the Coordinating Committee for the Setting Up of Workers’ Organisations (Comite Hahamhangi) points out that the dominant contradiction in Iran, a country where 70% of the population lives in urban areas, is between labour and capital. They point out that the level and depth of workers’ struggles show radicalism and levels of organisation and that the Iranian working class is the only force capable of delivering radical democracy.

Leftwing organisations and their supporters are also discussing the lessons to be learnt from the Ashura demonstrations. Clearly sections of the police and soldiers are refusing to shoot at demonstrators and the issue of organising 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 Tehran and other major cities the organisation of neighbourhood shoras (councils) has started.

The current debates within the ruling circles have had no impact on the level of protests undertaken by workers and students. There are reports of strikes and demonstrations in one of Iran’s largest industrial complexes, Isfahan’s steel plant, where privatisation 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 radicalise protests in this industry despite the fact that close control and repression has intensified over the recent period.

Last week a number of prominent labour activists, including Vahed bus worker Mansour Ossanlou, who are currently in prison (some incarcerated for over a year) were sacked from their jobs for ‘failing to turn up at work’, which prompted protests in Vahed depots and the Haft Tapeh sugar cane plant. In late December workers at the Lastic Alborz factory went on strike demanding payment of unpaid wages. This week workers have been holding protests at dozens of workplaces, including the Arak industrial complex, the Mazandaran textile factory, at the Polsadr metro construction and in Tonkabon.

Over the next few weeks Iranian workers will face major challenges. Even if the two main factions of the regime achieve a compromise, it will be unlikely to defuse the movement. In fact the conciliatory line of Moussavi and Khatami is certain to further reduce their influence amongst protesters. However, if the religious state is able to reunite, it will be more difficult to attend demonstrations, call strikes and hold sit-ins, etc.

Whatever happens, Iranian workers will need our solidarity more than ever. That is why Hands Off the People of Iran is currently planning a week of solidarity and fundraising actions in February – check the Hopi website for more details (www.hopoi.org).

Notes

1. New York Times December 29 2009.

2. One of the groups in the conservative faction of the Iranian parliament.

3. Fedayeen Islam was one of the first truly Islamic fundamentalist organisations in the Muslim world. It was founded in Iran by Navab Safavi in 1946 for the purpose of demanding strict application of the sharia and assassinating those it believed to be apostates and enemies of Islam.

4. http://enduringamerica.com/2010/01/04/iran-five-expatriate-intellectuals-issue-the-demands-of-the-green-movement.

5. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahmoud_Taleghani.

Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri (1922-2009)

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Montazeri The contradictory figure of Ayatollah Montazeri died in the early hours of Sunday, December 20. In one of his last statements, he warned that the current crisis in Iran was threatening the entire basis of the regime.

Yet how did this man – originally a stalwart of the state, one of the main architects of the Islamic Republic of Iran and, until 1989, a designated successor of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Khomeini – come to such a dramatic conclusion?

The official version of events has it that they fell out over Montazeri’s opposition to the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. The truth is that conflict had flared between them earlier. Official history will remember Montazeri as the man who played a crucial role exposing the Iran-Contra scandal. This was a scandal that both revealed the emptiness of the regime’s ‘anti-imperialist’ credentials and also something about the nature of this man; a senior, yet simple cleric who had maintained illusions about these rhetorical pretensions (despite weight of the evidence to the contrary that had piled up by the mid-1980s).

Thus, he was genuinely horrified to discover that the inner circles of the regime – from Khomeini to Hashemi Rafsanjani, from Khamenei to Moussavi – were deeply implicated in the arms for hostages scandal. Iran was sold arms via Israel, including Hawk missiles, at a time at a time when the USA was publicly calling for a worldwide ban arms sales to the Islamic state.

Iran was loudly claiming to implacably oppose both US imperialism and the Zionist state. Yet the quid-pro-quo for the Israeli-brokered arms deal was Iran facilitating the release of US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The negotiator in the US was Lt. Colonel Oliver North, a military aide to the National Security Council, reporting to Robert McFarlane, and later John Poindexter. An inventive reactionary, North improvised an addendum to the plan: diverting proceeds from the arms sales to support the counterrevolutionary Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Montazeri was horrified to when he found out about this sordid deal. It was his office that leaked the news of Reagan’s secret talks with Iran to a Lebanese newspaper and provided background information about the rest of the deal. The Lebanese paper’s scoop was picked up by the world’s media and this broke Iran-Contra affair worldwide.

Khomeini and others involved in the conspiracy were furious and started a campaign to undermine Montazeri. His solidarity organisation (set up to support ‘anti imperialist’ movements throughout the world) was taken over and its head, one of Montazeri’s relatives Mehdi Hashemi, was executed.

To undermine him, Khomeini’s inner circle (including Rafsanjani and Moussavi) encouraged rumours and jokes about his simple- mindedness. When Montazeri met students returning from higher education abroad, they introduced themselves to him as holders of Phds and MScs.  Montazeri was supposed to have replied that his son had a BMW.

At the end of the Iran Iraq war in 1988, Khomeini issued orders to execute political prisoners who were beyond ‘redemption’. That year, thousands of Mojahedin and communist prisoners were executed – despite the fact that most of them had already received custodial prison sentences or even had served their sentence and were eligible for release.

Montazeri broke ranks with other clerics in condemning the executions. In a letter to Khomeini he wrote : “our prison system and our human rights record are worse than the Shah’s regime”. All this despite the fact that he was aware of Khomieni’s illness and was thus potentially weeks away from becoming  “Supreme religious leader” himself.

Of course had he not been an Ayatollah, he would have paid with his life for any of the above offences. As an Ayatollah, Montazeri’s worst punishment was a period of house arrest in 1997 after he had criticised Khamenei’s leadership. In June 2009, he called the presidential election results fraudulent and later issued a fatwa against Ahmadinejad’s government.

Yet protest movements against religious states do not need ‘spiritual leaders’, and Montazeri himself would have objected to being dubbed as such by sections of the ‘Green Movement’ and the media. However, in one of his last statements he warned Khamenei that the current political crisis in Iran was now endangering the very existence of the Islamic regime. It is likely that the words of this senior cleric, one of the founding figures of  an Islamic Republic now riven with crisis, will haunt Iran’s rulers in the months to come as they stumble from one crisis to another.

Yassamine Mather, Hopi Steering Committee

Yassamine Mather: Workers gain new courage

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

Workers fight back

Workers fight back

Iranian demonstrations have given a real boost to working class opponents of the regime, writes Yassamine Mather

Every year November 4, the anniversary of the 1979 take-over of the US embassy in Tehran, is marked in Iran with a state-organised demonstration outside the building that used to house the American ambassador and his staff. On that date 30 years ago militant Islamic students stormed the embassy and took 71 hostages. Nineteen were released within weeks, but the remaining 52 were held for 444 days.

The ceremony commemorating the 30th anniversary of the ‘US hostage crisis’ was no different from recent years: a lacklustre ritual addressed by an insignificant minister. However, no-one in Iran will ever forget November 4 2009. It was the day when illegal demonstrations in at least six separate locations in Tehran and 20 cities and university campuses throughout the country overshadowed the state-organised event. As the national broadcasting service was showing live pictures of the gathering outside the former US embassy, shouts of “Death to the dictator” from protesters on neighbouring streets and squares were so loud that it was difficult to hear the minister’s speech. In Tehran the six locations were Enghelab Square, Ferdowsi, Haft Tir, Enghelab Square, Vali Asr and Vanak Square.

Revolutionary guards had issued stern warnings that they would not tolerate any protest demonstrations, and the night before dozens of political activists were arrested. On the morning of November 4 itself, government offices closed their doors at around 10am to stop employees leaving their workplace to join the protests. The ministry of the interior deployed special units of anti-riot police, many on motorbikes, as well as the religious bassij militia, to block main roads, intimidate potential demonstrators and attack any gathering. Yet despite all these measure, by all accounts – including admissions in the pro-Ahmadinejad press – tens of thousands of Iranians joined the protests against the regime.

Highly significant was the absence of any slogans regarding the rigged elections. Four months and 22 days after the June 2009 presidential poll, demonstrators in Iran have clearly moved on. Even the BBC Persian Service, that staunch defender of the ‘green movement’, had to admit in its broadcasts and analyses what most of the left has been saying for some time: as a result of the impasse within the factions of the Islamic regime the protests are no longer about the results of the presidential elections. Protesters are now challenging the very existence of that regime. ‘Reformist’ leaders are tailing the masses.1

The advice of their ‘leaders’ – most of whom, with the exception of presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, did not even dare show their face at the demonstrations – was totally ignored. Fellow ‘reformist’ candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi had spent the previous 10 days warning everyone against “radical” slogans that would only “benefit the enemy”. Yet demonstrators did the exact opposite.

Even the bourgeois media had to admit that the radicalisation of the demonstrations has marked a new phase in the life of the opposition. The main slogans that dominated the day were directed at the supreme leader himself: “Our guardian is a murderer [the supreme leader’s official religious title is ‘guardian of the nation’]. His rule is null and void” (Vali ma ghateleh velayatesh bateleh), plus the usual “Death to Khamenei, death to the Islamic republic”.

The crowds were also at odds with Moussavi over the nuclear issue. In late October he and Karroubi met to discuss the recent US-EU offer to Iran, and made it clear that they considered Ahmadinejad’s response to be a sell-out. Moussavi was quoted by his own website Kalameh as saying: “If the promises given are realised then the hard work of thousands of scientists would be ruined.” Yet for the first time in many years, it looked like the nationalist defenders of a nuclear Iran had no supporters amongst the protesters, whose slogans were very clear: “We don’t want reactors, we don’t want the atomic bomb.”

A week earlier, Moussavi, after a lot of dithering, had called on his supporters to back the November 4 demonstrations, yet on the day he failed to show up at any of the protests. His supporters claimed he was prevented from leaving a cultural centre by the security forces, but witnesses deny this. For all his faults, Karroubi, the 70-year-old cleric, showed more courage. He was prepared to join the demonstrations, even though one of his bodyguards was badly injured and ended up in hospital.

In another qualitative development angry demonstrators tore down posters of Khamenei and trampled all over them in what were unprecedented scenes. The man who is supposed to be god’s representative on earth (for Shia Muslims) was called a murderer and his image defiled by demonstrators wiping their feet on his posters.

Most of all, though, November 4 will be remembered as the day Iranians realised their strength and found the courage to stand up to the regime’s supporters and security forces. A number of bloggers have remarked on how government supporters leaving the official gathering hid memorabilia and photos of the supreme leader that had been dished out at that event when they saw the huge number of protesters in neighbouring streets.

There were many reports and films of the bassij and militia attacking protesters, especially women. However, there were also many incidents where demonstrators confronted those forces and actually got the better of them. In some incidents old women defended young protesters and shamed the security forces into retreating.

Some protesters have also taken up a new chant: “Obama, Obama – either you’re with them or you’re with us.” On the face of it, this does not sound like the most radical of slogans. However, this is a country obsessed with conspiracy theories regarding foreign interference and it was the first time since 1979 that Iranians have directed a slogan at the leader of the hegemon capitalist power in the face of such conspiracy theories. It should be noted that since Irangate2 no-one in Iran takes slogans like “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” shouted at official demonstrations seriously.

A number of foreign reporters were detained, most of whom have now been released, together with an Iranian journalist working for Agence France Presse. The stupid leaders of the regime had thought that by making such arrests they would stop the world hearing about the protests, but the reality is that now Iran has millions of reporters, with their text messages, emails and video footage captured on mobile phones. Perhaps the regime will consider banning all electronic equipment in their desperation to stop the ‘wrong’ news spreading.

The demonstrations have given a real boost to working class opponents of the regime. For the first time in many years they are finding allies in their struggle against the Islamic government. Sections of the left, including Rahe Kargar, have been talking of setting up neighbourhood resistance committees and clearly, given the vicious attacks by security forces on the growing opposition, such committees are necessary. For the first time in many years Iranians are discussing the need for the masses to be armed to confront the state security forces, while maintaining their opposition to ‘militarist’ tactics.

But the regime will not give up easily. More than 200 people were arrested in Tehran and the provinces on or around November 4, while a number of labour activists from the Haft Tapeh sugar cane company have been sent to prison for organising strikes. There are unconfirmed reports that despite many efforts to save the life of Kurdish leader Ehsan Fattahian, he was executed on November 11 in Sanandaj Central Prison. Ehsan’s 10-year prison sentence for membership of an illegal Kurdish organisation was recently changed to execution for no apparent reason.

Hundreds of protesters remain in prison and we must do all we can to support and defend them. Let us step up our solidarity with the working class and democratic opposition.

Notes
  1. See BBC Newsnight report, including interview with BBC Persian Service presenter: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPgi2LUNdqI
  2. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran%E2%80%93Contra_affair for a summary of the ‘Iran Contra affair’, also known as ‘Irangate’.
From Weekly Worker 793

Green road to nowhere

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

iranpic1The sham presidential election of June 2009 has unleashed a rainbow of political forces, writes Yassamine Mather, including an increasingly strong red component. The task of the left is to support and strengthen the red component of this rainbow, the Iranian working class, as the only force capable of bringing about democracy, and the only movement conscious of the international complexities of the current situation

Every day for the last few weeks Iranian workers have been protesting, at times in their thousands – at their workplaces, outside government offices and provincial offices complaining about job losses, non-payment of wages, privatisation … Universities have been the scene of daily protests and ordinary people have used every opportunity, even football matches, to express their opposition to the regime. At the same time a new wave of exiles, including reporters, writers, professors of literature, are leaving the country, despairing of continued repression and the ineffective ‘reformist’ leaders.

For the overwhelming majority of Iranians, however, such an option does not exist. Tens of millions of wage-earners have no choice but to continue their struggles against the regime in their daily confrontation with factory-owners and the religious state that backs them. In the words of those at Wagon Pars, who went on hunger strike last week, workers have “nothing to lose but their unpaid wages”. The 1,700 employees of Wagon Pars, manufacturer of freight wagons and passenger coaches, have been in dispute with management and the state for months over unpaid wages. In August 2009 these workers went on strike and staged a sit-in protest on factory grounds, locking the gates and preventing managers from entering.

The factory had been privatised as a subsidiary of troubled car maker Iran Khodro, after Iran’s supreme leader changed article 44 of the constitution, removing the guarantee of public ownership for key industries. Protests and threats of strike by Iran Khodro workers forced the government to retreat, showing the vulnerability of the rulers when confronted by united working class action. Iran Khodro workers have now won five of their demands, including an overtime pay rise of 20% for all workers on the production line.

Last week there were also major workers’ protests over non-payment of wages in Louleh Sazi Khouzestan (manufacturers of pipelines) and a demonstration by Tractor Sazi workers in Kurdistan, where tens of workers were sacked, while others are expected to work longer hours. Managers in most of these disputes blame the world economic downturn for the new wave of job losses. Nearly four months after the huge demonstrations of June 2009, the continuation of protests in workplaces and universities proves that opposition to the regime goes well beyond the issue of the sham presidential elections.

Sanctions and the working class

Sanctions have compounded an already dire economic situation. In the South Pars oilfields almost 6,000 contract workers are threatened with job losses, as whole fields are abandoned following news that Total, Repsol and Shell are pulling out. The current protests should indeed be seen in the light of the world economic crisis – whose effects have been felt far worse in the countries of the periphery – as well as the impact of sanctions. Iranian workers are adamant that the dire economic situation is one of the main reasons why protests continue and evolve, despite the failures of the green movement. Some of their supporters talk of the “suffocating silence” of the green movement’s leadership.1

Of course, workers’ protests in Iran are nothing new. They have been going on for years. What is different is the massive increase in their number and the introduction of political slogans, such as “Death to the dictator” or “Tanks, bullets, bassij [militia] are not effective any more”, in workers’ sit-ins, protests and demonstrations. Workers were the first section of the population to confront unscrupulous capitalists and the religious state, and their audacity paved the way for the wider opposition to develop. Now they are showing themselves the most tenacious in continuing the protests, even if the western media do not find workers’ actions newsworthy. The problems they face are enormous. Unlike the myriad well funded NGOs, some with dubious links to US regime-change funds, the Iranian working class has no source of ready income. On the contrary, their protests cost workers their meagre wages.

Reporting workers’ struggles on radio and TV is considered ideological, while giving wall-to-wall coverage to the utterances of ‘reformist’ Islamists or bourgeois liberal politicians is deemed ‘impartial’. The state can identify and punish labour activists much more easily than demonstrators. Nowhere is the state’s control more severe than in the oil industry. Worker activists discussing possible strike action are moved from their regular posts to other areas.

Yet none of the state’s increasingly repressive measures seem to deter the Iranian working class, who are turning the defensive actions of last year into more aggressive forms of protest, establishing road blocks, taking managers hostage, bringing their families to occupy closed factories and workplaces. In order to overcome the lack of news coverage of their struggles, Iranian workers are setting up their own means of communication through internet sites and email.

But the combination of proposed new sanctions and the ‘new’ economic policies of the regime will make life even harder for the majority. Just when it became clear that Iran has no intention of adhering to a proposed deal for the ‘resolution’ of its nuclear crisis2 and the US began passing legislation to impose new unilateral sanctions, the majles (Islamic parliament) discussed regulations that would sharply reduce energy and food subsidies, in compliance with long-term demands of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In the US, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act (IRSA), approved by an overwhelming 414 to six margin in Congress, will allow local and state governments and their pension funds to divest from foreign companies or US subsidiaries with investments of more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector. And the house foreign affairs committee has scheduled a vote for October 28 on the Iran Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA) bill. This will impose sanctions on companies involved in exporting refined petroleum products to Iran or expanding Tehran’s capacity to produce its own refined products. Similar sanctions are likely to be imposed by France, the United Kingdom and Germany. Meanwhile most US politicians and commentators agree that sanctions affecting the general population could actually bolster support for the Tehran government.

The new subsidies legislation in Iran will increase the prices of goods, including gasoline, natural gas and electricity. Similar legislation was proposed by ‘reformist’ president Mohammad Khatami during his term (1997-2005), proving once more that, when it comes to major economic decisions, including compliance with IMF demands, the two main factions of the Islamic regime have identical policies. It is therefore no surprise that ‘reformist’ MPs, including supporters of Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the main challenger in the June elections, back the measure.

With subsidies and the current rationing system, a litre of gasoline costs 100 tomans ($0.10). The new bill will raise the price to as much as 500 or 600 tomans per litre – before the effects of US/European sanctions start to bite. The measure could double Iran’s already astronomic rate of inflation, fluctuating between 15% and 30%. It will make the poor poorer, while the rich will be least affected. Ironically, legislative bodies in both the US and Iran are making sure the Iranian people will suffer this winter. Iran is the world’s fifth-largest crude oil exporter, but its eight refineries cannot produce near enough fuel for the home market.

Islamic values?

If anyone had any doubt about the reactionary nature of the ‘reformist’ leaders, this week’s meeting and joint statement from Moussavi and Khatami should have shattered their illusions. They called for “a return to the values of the Islamic republic and to the country’s constitution”. What values are we talking about? Air raids on inhabited villages in Kurdistan in the early 1980s, when Moussavi was prime minister? Or the massacre of peasants who sheltered leftwingers in Kurdistan? The values that led to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1987, or the values behind serial political murders during Khatami’s presidency? The list of ‘Islamic values’ under Khatami and Moussavi is indeed endless. These gentlemen and the ‘reformists’ as a whole are obsessed with calling recent events a coup, as their pleas for a return to the ‘glory days’ of the Islamic republic make clear: Iran had previously been a democracy, you see – at least when Khatami was president or Moussavi was prime minister – but then in June 2009 there was a coup!

In reality, the Islamic regime’s attitude towards any form of opposition has not changed much over the last few months. Opposition groups and labour activists, women and student protesters have been arrested, tortured and executed throughout the last 30 years. What has changed is a reduction in the executive power of the ‘reformists’, who have been part and parcel of the regime. It is hard to see how one could call the current state of affairs a coup when the major players claiming to be the victims still hold their positions. Former ‘reformist’ president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani (1989-97) remains chair of the council of experts and chair of the national security council. Khatami’s International Institute for Dialogue among Cultures and Civilisations is not under threat. Clerical allies of the ‘reformists’ in Ghom remain free to express their opinions.

None of this, of course, makes Iran a democracy. Iran remains a religious capitalist state with all the contradictions of such a combination. However, what we are witnessing is not a coup, but divisions amongst rulers.

Left illusions

The events of June 2009 have unleashed a whole set of new movements in Iran. One can no longer speak of a single movement. In the words of activists inside Iran, we see a rainbow of political forces, including an increasingly strong red component. As I said at the CPGB’s Communist University in August, the task of the left is to support and strengthen the red component of this rainbow, the Iranian working class, as the only force capable of bringing about democracy – but also as the only movement conscious of the international complexities of the current situation.

However, the events of the last few years, as well as the BBC’s obsession with the Iranian clergy and ‘ayatollogy’,3 has moved much of the exiled left and some of their supporters inside Iran further into liberalism and nationalism. For these forces, mesmerised by the euphoria of maintaining ‘unity’, class politics has become a dogmatic irrelevance. Yet there have been very few times in Iran’s history when the role of the working class has been so pivotal in the political arena as it is today – as sections of the Iranian working class, in particular in the oil industry, keep reminding us.4 They are the force that continues to fight for their jobs and their livelihoods, and in doing so they are in the forefront of the battle for democracy.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the pro-Soviet Stalinist left in Iran started its analysis of the political situation from an international perspective. According to the dogma, there existed two camps, imperialism and socialism, and from that followed tactics and strategy. In an almost total reversal of that old position, we now see an Iranian ‘left’, often with roots in organisations that had pro-Soviet tendencies, looking only at Iran and analysing the region and the world through the prism of nationalism. No wonder this ex-left has become so liberal in its attitudes towards imperialism, war and sanctions.

By identifying the main enemy as the current regime in Iran with its Islamic characteristics (as opposed to its capitalist nature), this section of the ‘left’ becomes, consciously or unconsciously, part of the rightwing agenda. It seeks justice for Iranian workers from pro-imperialist trade unions; it wants tribunals financed by the Pentagon for abusers of human rights and executioners of political prisoners; it sees nothing wrong with accepting funds from western capitalist organisations to set up NGOs; when it comes to imperialism, it supports ‘third campist’ positions, choosing to ignore the predominant role of the hegemonic forces in world capitalism (this malaise goes well beyond the disintegrating splinters of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, spreading to other sections of the exiled left like a contagious disease).

That is why, at a time of political upheavals which should see the radicalisation of this ‘left’, we hear the most astonishing comments, ranging from the sublime – ‘Both Israel and Palestinians are equally at fault over Gaza’ (the Palestinians presumably for being occupied), ‘We should support a third campist position’ – to the ridiculous – crediting the bourgeoisie in western Europe for “bringing about universal suffrage” (N Khorasani, feminist activist). Our liberal left is keen to talk of social movements rather than class politics, forgetting that social movements, in Iran as anywhere else, are so divided by class, nationality, religion and politics that it is impossible to consider them a single coherent force – the women’s movement being a clear example.

The heralded movement of movements in Iran will go nowhere unless the working class succeeds in putting its mark on current events. In so doing it will inevitably have to deal with the increasing ‘liberalism’ of sections of the ex-left.

We are at the beginning of such a struggle and it will take a long time. Nevertheless the signs from debates amongst workers inside Iran are encouraging. Car workers and oil workers who face international capital in their daily protests seem unaffected by the myth of bourgeois liberal heavens that will permit the development of trade unions, apparently a precondition for all workers’ struggles! The Iranian working class – and here one should include the millions who have lost their jobs because of the neoliberal policies of finance capital – are in daily confrontation with world capitalism.

No wonder, despite their hatred of the Islamic regime, they remain the only class aware of the objective interests of the United States and it allies in controlling the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region. Unlike sections of the national minorities or the women’s movement, which have become pawns in imperialist games, Iranian workers have maintained their opposition to a regime which is subordinate to the US in the global pecking order, and are conscious that their movement must draw clear lines against bourgeois alternatives and imperialist plans.

They are already taking initiatives well beyond the limited horizons of our liberal left, talking of workers’ control in the thousands of abandoned factories and plants throughout the country. They are talking of the need for unity in organising employed and unemployed workers, of the need to set up neighbourhood organisations in working class districts. They are discussing the possibility of a general strike, its likely risks and potential rewards.

They certainly have no illusions regarding any of the shades of the green movement, even though they clearly understand the unprecedented opportunities presented by the current divisions amongst Iran’s theocratic rulers. Our solidarity and our support should be with the working class – and its many allies in the women’s movement, amongst students and in the national and religious minorities.

Threats over uranium enrichment aid regime

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009
We don’t want nuclear power - we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live - we don’t live to work.

We don’t want nuclear power - we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live - we don’t live to work.

Ahmadinejad uses the ‘enemy without’ to justify increased repression, arrests and the torture of the ‘enemy within’, writes Yassamine Mather

The dramatic statements by Obama, Brown and Sarkozy about Iran’s undisclosed nuclear enrichment plant, made in a ‘breaking news’-style press conference on the first day of the G20 gathering in Pittsburgh, were clearly intended to prepare the world for a new conflict in the Middle East. The presentation of the ‘news’ and the language used in delivering the threats were reminiscent of the warnings about Iraq’s ‘45-minute’ strike capability.

According to Obama, “Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on October 1 they are going to have to come clean, and they will have to make a choice.” The alternative to sticking to ‘international rules’ on Iran’s nuclear development, would be “a path that is going to lead to confrontation”.

Yet in some ways the existence of a second uranium enrichment plant is old news. By all accounts US and UK secret services had known about this plant for at least three years – Israel and France also knew about it for some time and had delivered their finding to the International Atomic Energy Agency earlier this year. The ‘dramatic’ disclosures came at a time when Russia was already on board regarding further sanctions. Given its billion-dollar trade with Iran, China – one of Iran’s major commercial partners – is unlikely to change its opposition to further sanctions.

So what was the main purpose of the Obama-Sarkozy-Brown show on September 25? Could it be it was directed mainly to audiences in the US, UK and France, to convince them that, at a time of economic uncertainty, western leaders have to deal with a ‘major external threat’ posed by Iran’s nuclear development?

But the elephant in that press conference room was the Israeli nuclear programme. While Iran might be approaching nuclear military capability by 2010-15 (no-one is claiming it has such capability now), another ‘religious’ state in the Middle East is exempt from IAEA regulations and possesses between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads (this according to US estimates), yet it maintains a policy of ‘deliberate ambiguity’ on whether it has nuclear weapons.

Former IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei regarded Israel as a state possessing nuclear weapons, but there has been no IAEA inspection, hence the ambiguity over the number of warheads it possesses. Strictly speaking, as a beneficiary of the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II, Israel is not supposed to have any. Yet every year the US congress approves billions of dollars of US military aid to Israel. For the fiscal year 2010, Obama is requesting $2.775 billion.

The Symington and Glenn amendments to foreign aid law specifically prohibit US aid to nuclear states outside the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has signed the NPT. Israel has not.

Of course, none of this justifies the Iranian rulers’ obsession with reaching a stage where they can produce nuclear weapons. Unlike middle class nationalist Iranians, who even in their opposition to the regime, favour the government’s nuclear programme, the Iranian working class has been clear on this issue, as shown by placards on recent demonstrations: “We don’t want nuclear power – we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live – we don’t live to work.”

Millions of Iranian workers have not been paid for months, while capitalists and the religious government keep telling them of Iran’s economic crisis and shortfalls in both the state and private funds, yet the Islamic regime seems to have sufficient funds to equip one more nuclear enrichment plant, paying billions – presumably to dubious sources – for black market equipment. The current escalation of the conflict also exposes the stupidity of the Iranian rulers who only admitted to the existence of this ‘secret’ plant after its existence was ‘exposed’.

Of course, Iranians have become so used to hearing total lies from the leaders of all factions of the Islamic regime that the revelation of the existence of this facility, hidden not far from the capital, did not come as a surprise. After all, this is the same government that used Photoshop to pretend a failed rocket did succesfully launch, the same government that cheated in the presidential elections, then lied about the number of people killed in the subsequent protests, and the same government whose president claims to have seen a white light descending from another world while he was addressing the UN assembly in 2007.

Further sanctions will bring more poverty for Iranian workers and it will be the Iranian people who will pay the price for the foolishness of the very leaders they have been protesting against for over two months. The US is keen on sanctions against companies exporting refined oil to Iran (which imports 60% of its requirements). It now looks like France and Germany are sceptical about such sanctions. They refer to the Iraq experience and the ease with which petrol can be smuggled across land borders.

The Iranian government has already indicated that it will cut petrol subsidies. It is blaming the west and hopes such a move will unite the country against the ‘foreign enemy’. Contrary to the pessimism of sections of the Iranian left in exile who ‘despair’ of the growth of the ‘Green’ movement or who have joined the bandwagon behind ‘reformist’ presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi, workers in oil refineries in Iran are well aware of the historic role of their class in the current situation and there have been discussions regarding strikes in this industry for the last few weeks. These workers have two valid concerns: (1) that their strike should not benefit Moussavi (he is hated by these workers, some of whom remember his time in power); and (2) that their strike should not help US efforts for regime change from above.

Western countries are also considering options including an embargo on investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector, an end to loan guarantees to all companies investing in Iran, a ban on Iranian businesses trading in euros, and a ban on foreign companies insuring Iranian shipping and air transport. All of these measures will target the Iranian people, the majority of whom hate the clerical state.

UN lies

If the Iranian government lied about its nuclear installations, Ahmadinejad’s speech last week at the UN was also full of deceit. His holocaust-denial comments, repeated in every interview he gave while in the US, were a deliberate attempt to divert attention from mass protests at home and to heighten the tension with the rest of the world. This regime and this president rely on foreign crises to survive – he desperately needs enemies abroad to divert attention from problems at home, and the Obama-Brown-Sarkozy trio gave him that.

However, his speech contained other lies. The man who has printed money in an attempt to solve Iran’s economic problems told the world: “It is no longer possible to inject thousands of billions of dollars of unreal wealth into the world economy simply by printing worthless paper assets, or transfer inflation as well as social and economic problems to others through creating severe budget deficits.” He also criticised “liberal capitalism” (as opposed to clerical capitalism?). After all, this is the president of a government that is busy privatising every industry in Iran, from services in the oil industry to car plants and Iran’s national telecommunications. The telecom company was privatised and sold to the ‘revolutionary guards’ in the last week of September, although Iran’s ‘monopoly regulatory commission’ is now said to be investigating this.

However, such actions by Iran’s Sepah Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) do not imply that the country is under military capitalist rule: they are controlled by the most conservative sections of Iran’s clerical elite. The Pasdaran ownership of the telecommunication services is only another success for supreme leader Ali Khamenei, his son and the clerics around him, as this ideological military force has no life and no significance without clerical rule.

The few delegates in the UN assembly hall who heard Ahmadinejad condemn the excesses of “liberal capitalism” might have thought Iran is an egalitarian religious society. Nothing could be further from reality. After 30 years in power Iran’s Islamic regime has created one of the most unequal, corrupt societies of the region, where the gap between the rich and the poor is amongst the highest in the world. As Ahmadinejad was speaking, Iran’s car workers (amongst the best paid sections of the working class) were protesting at long shifts causing ill health and workers throughout Iran were on strike or demonstrating against non-payment of wages. While factory closures due to privatisation continue, Aryaman Motors, a Tehran-based company specialising in reproducing classic cars, launched a new series of replica vehicles based on the original design of the earliest Rolls Royce models at $120,000 each – wealthy Iranians have already pre-paid for the first models that will be finished later this year.

In his speech Ahmadinejad also referred to the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, failing to mention Iran’s role in support of US aggression in both – as leaders of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran keep reminding us! The Iranian president then referred to breaches of human rights in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Of course, it is inevitable that abuse of human rights by the ‘torch holders’ of liberal democracy in the US and the UK will be used by every tinpot leader in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere to justify the torture and execution of opponents. The Iranian president is the leader of a government that has killed at least 72 civilians and tortured hundreds in the last two months alone, yet the actions of western governments allow him to stand up in New York and give moral lectures about ‘human right abuses’. We truly live in irrational times.

Protests and divisions

The first days of the new university term in Iran saw major protests on campuses throughout the country – the largest being at Tehran University on September 27-28. Students shouted “Death to the dictator” and booed the new minister of higher education. Security forces retreated from the campus. On Tuesday September 29 students protested at Sharif University, once more causing the minister for higher education to abandon plans to speak. Meanwhile, security forces are warning football crowds not to chant political slogans at the Tehran derby between Esteghlal and Persepolis on October 2.

As former president and leading ‘reformist’ Ali Akbar Rafsanjani continues his efforts to find a compromise between the regime’s warring factions, the first signs of a rift amongst ‘reformists’ has appeared. In an open letter addressed to Rafsanjani, another ‘reformist’ presidential candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, writes: “What is your answer to the people who, under dangerous conditions, question the actions of the Assembly of Experts under your leadership? … By what measure have you preserved the ideals of the revolution in your role as chair of the Assembly of Experts, whose first duty is fighting injustice?”

Moussavi’s latest statement on September 28 is also predictably uninspiring. Its repeated references to the “wisdom” of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, confirmed his continued allegiance to the ‘imam’s line’. But this will not gain him much support amongst young Iranians, who will not accept any solution short of the overthrow of the entire regime. Moussavi’s call on his supporters to “avoid any radical measures which could damage the achievements so far made by the opposition” expose once more his fear of radical change and his determination to save the religious state.

All this is very good news for the revolutionary forces. However, the threat of sanctions and war only strengthens Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. In the words of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, any “rush to punitive sanctions – tightened to the point where ordinary Iranians, already suffering the effects of chronic unemployment, had to endure petrol shortages or big fuel price hikes – could backfire spectacularly”.

Hands Off the People of Iran has always condemned sanctions and threats of war against Iran. We oppose them not only because we want to see imperialism defeated, but because they increase patriotism and nationalism, thus helping the reactionary regime. The government will use the ‘threat of the enemy without’ to increase repression, to arrest and torture its ‘enemy within’. Sanctions disorganise the working class, as people are forced to squander their fighting energies on day-to-day struggles to keep their jobs and feed their families – Iranian oil workers are right to be concerned about going on strike at a time when sanctions will also target ‘imported refined oil’.

The proposed US-European sanctions dramatically degrade the ability of the working people to struggle collectively on their own account, to organise and to fight. In other words, for the sake of Iranian working class we must continue our opposition to war, sanctions and regime change from above, while increasing our solidarity with the revolutionary movement inside Iran.

Mass protests re-ignite

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Yassamine Mather calls for support and solidarity for workers in Iran

If anyone was in any doubt about the continuation of the political crisis in Iran, demonstrations on Friday September 18 in Tehran, Tabriz, Mashad, Shiraz, Isfahan and elsewhere put an end to that.

Tens of thousands of Iranians, ignoring repeated warnings by the security forces, used the state-sponsored demonstrations for ‘Qods day’ (Jerusalem day) on the last Friday of Ramadan to voice their opposition to the government and the clerical regime’s supreme leader. Undeterred by two months of executions, arrests and show trials, the opposition used the opportunity to fill the streets and voice their protests.

Earlier, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had once again done harm to the Palestinian cause by repeating his abhorrent holocaust-denial claims: “The holocaust was a false pretext for the establishment of Israel in 1948. It is a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim … Why shouldn’t we be allowed to research this? … All western governments are victims of a Zionist conspiracy that dictates their foreign policy.” Never mind capitalism or imperialism – it is all to do with conspiracies. Many will remember anti-Semites making similar remarks in the 20th century.

But it is not just this anti-Semitic message that helps the Zionists. A section of Iranian youth who have heard nothing but empty rhetoric about Palestine, all mouthed by a reactionary dictatorship, are not as supportive of the Palestinian cause as older generations. In a country where the majority of the population live in poverty, those who are foolish enough to believe the Shia state’s exaggerated claims relating to financial support for Hezbollah or Hamas blame such largesse in ‘foreign aid’ for their own destitution.

However, last Friday was mainly about opposition to Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, and Ahmadinejad. The demonstrators were shouting for the Iranian government to go, with slogans such as: “Death to the dictator. We will revenge our dead. Death to Khamenei. Coup d’etat government, resign, resign! Dictator, dictator, have shame; the Iranian people are ready to revolt – this is our last warning.” A number of slogans were addressed to the bassij (Islamic militia) – some calling on them to stop siding with the oppressors and join the people, others warning them of the consequences of killing protesters.

A minority were shouting a reactionary, nationalist slogan: “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon. My life for my country.” This was a reference to the regime’s support for Palestinians in Gaza and Shias in Lebanon, and it was promoted mainly by rightwing forces. This slogan had been rejected out of hand the week before the demonstration by sections of the left.

A statement by the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran (Rahe Kargar), distributed last week, reminded Iranians of their shared destiny with the oppressed in Palestine and Lebanon. Saying that Palestine should not be equated with Hamas. Rahe Kargar pointed to the unprecedented solidarity shown by people throughout the world for the protest movement in Iran. The leaflet called on demonstrators to reciprocate this internationalism and proposed the slogan, “Wake up – Iran has become Palestine”.

This was a timely reminder for sections of the Iranian left, many of whom are increasingly tailing bourgeois liberal politics rather than coming up with a leftwing alternative. The Iranian working class cannot struggle for power in one country; if we are serious about ditching the Stalinist idiocy of socialism in one country, the tasks of the Iranian working class cannot be limited to the borders of Iran. More importantly, whether Iranian rightwing nationalists like it or not, it is the US and western powers who in recent months have associated the two issues of Iran and Palestine more than ever before.

Obama

In late August news from the Middle East was dominated by claims that Barack Obama had managed to convince Israel to freeze its construction of new West Bank settlements in exchange for the US adopting more stringent policies regarding the Iranian nuclear plan. Soon afterwards, especially following the visit of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Europe, leaders in London, Paris and Berlin were singing from the same song sheet. We were ‘reliably’ informed that US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell was preparing to announce the resumption of peace talks by the end of September. The American promise to take a firmer line against the Iranian nuclear plan was supposed to convince Jerusalem it needed to get on board the initiative. The US, Britain and France plan to pressure the UN security council to expand sanctions against the Islamic Republic, including sanctions on its gas and petrol industries – a move that is claimed will destroy Iran’s already collapsing economy.

Less than a week after these pronouncements it became clear that Israel had officially approved the construction of more than 500 new homes in the occupied West Bank. This is in addition to Netanyahu’s refusal to apply any freeze at all to the colonisation of Greater Jerusalem, or to stop construction projects that have already been started. The new homes will be built in six settlements – all of which are included in the blocs Israel wants to retain under any peace agreement, according to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper.

On the other hand, despite news of direct talks to be held in early October, threats of military action against Iran are increasing. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal in early September warned Obama that the United States must quickly put a stop to the Iranian nuclear programme, otherwise Israel will bomb the facilities: “An Israeli strike on Iran would be the most dangerous foreign policy issue Obama could face,” the paper declared. Another Republican hawk, former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, maintains that additional sanctions alone will not be enough to make the Iranians abandon their nuclear ambitions. William Cohen, who served as defence secretary during the Bill Clinton presidency, says that “there is a countdown taking place” and that Israel “is not going to sit indifferently on the sidelines and watch Iran continue on its way toward becoming a nuclear power.”

Netanyahu has skilfully used the huge general onslaught against Obama by the forces of the US right, with whom the Israeli PM is allied. Together they have managed to deflect the pressure on Israel to freeze colonisation of the occupied territories, and divert attention to the Iranian ‘threat’. At the moment it seems that the US right and their Israeli ally are ahead. George Mitchell’s trip to the Middle East got nowhere, and it is unlikely that Obama will make any progress in talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

We in Hands Off the People of Iran have always maintained that threats of further sanctions and war have nothing to do with the alleged development of Iranian nuclear weapons. All the evidence suggests that the Iranian regime’s plan is (eventually) to achieve nuclear weapons capability, rather than actually produce nuclear weapons.

However, we are witnessing a conflict between two alternative US strategies regarding Iran’s future role in the region. During his election campaign Obama seemed prepared for some accommodation, allowing the Islamic regime limited regional influence in exchange for better cooperation with the US. But the US right and Israel preferred to continue the Bush policy of no accommodation, tighter sanctions, regime change from the outside and the threat of military action. The American promise to take a firmer line against the Iranian nuclear plan was supposed to convince Jerusalem to get on board the initiative, yet less than a year into the Obama presidency, pressure from Israel and the US right – at a time of political uncertainty in Iran, combined with Ahmadinejad’s holocaust denial – has ensured there is no progress in this area. The threat of an Israeli military strike against Iran, as well as the possibility of new sanctions, is today as serious as ever before.

Whichever way one looks at the problem, the issues of Palestine and Iran cannot be separated. Yet an oppressive regime in Iran cannot be a genuine ally of the Palestinians; and the liberation of the Iranian people cannot be achieved while the region continues to suffer war, occupation and repression.

On September 18, prompted by the left, some demonstrators in Tehran had the right slogans: “Whether in Gaza or in Iran, stop killing people; Iran has become like Palestine.” The dominance of this slogan in the Tehran demonstration showed the presence and effective role of the left. The demonstration was also unique in a number of other ways. As many commentators have said, it marked a new phase in the continuing struggle between the government and the Iranian people. The massive turnout almost two months after the protests of June and July prove the vulnerability of the unpopular president and government.

New phase

The composition of the protest differed from earlier demonstrations, in that protesters in Tehran and in other major cities were almost uniquely from the poorer districts. The middle classes only came out mid-afternoon, when reports of the size of the demonstrations assured them of safety. It was the first real nationwide protest – tens of thousands came out in Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashad, Tabriz, Rasht, etc. Older women were present in large numbers, probably for the first time since the recent wave of demonstrations started. According to many accounts, Iranians had left their homes in the morning of September 18 fearful that they would be in a small protest surrounded by vicious bassij militia. Only when they reached the agreed assembly places did they become aware of how large the protests were.

Many recount with joy the fleeing of the state’s ‘Hezbollahis’ and their oversized speakers, once they realised how big the opposition protests were going to be. In many of the films on the internet, the faint voices of pro-government demonstrators are being drowned out by slogans from the much larger and more militant opposition. Before the demonstration, it had become clear that Ahmadinejad and his government favoured using the full might of the state to frighten the population. However, the supreme leader and his allies in the conservative faction of the regime, increasingly worried that further repression might challenge the very existence of the Islamic regime, tried to portray the Qods demonstration as a day of ‘national unity’. In the end, of course, the day exposed the deep divisions in Iranian society for all to see.

Although tear gas was used and a number of people were arrested, the level of force use against the demonstrators was less than on previous demonstrations and certainly less than threatened. It will be interesting to see how the protesters will react to this clear retreat of the supreme leader.

Another important factor regarding the September 18 protest was the continuation of the protests at an important football match in the evening. The spectators’ anti-government slogans could be heard for miles around the stadium, but the national radio and television company was forced to abandon live coverage of this rather crucial game between Estghlal and Steel Azin, blaming faulty cameras in the stadium! Foolishly the match was broadcast live on radio, so very few people in Iran are in any doubt about the nature of the state broadcasting authority’s ‘technical’ difficulties. In another victory for the demonstrators on the same day, Ahmadinejad was forced to cut short an interview on national TV, as shouts of “Death to the dictator” could clearly be heard during the broadcast.

No doubt the events that day will  shape the coming weeks and months. Schools and universities are opening this week, although many campuses will remain shut until November. The experiences of the demonstration and the football match clearly show that, as soon as a crowd gathers, political opposition to the regime will be voiced. On the other hand, short of calling for a curfew and direct military rule, how can the government avoid public gatherings? And, if it does go towards a curfew, how will reformist opponents within its own ranks react? Are they going to ban football matches? Will they close down universities and high schools?

In a clear sign of retreat, Khamenei’s speech at the end of Ramadan continued a theme taken up earlier in September, in an attempt to pacify sections of the opposition. Khamenei had earlier rejected the idea that foreign powers were involved in the country’s post-election demonstrations: “I do not accuse leaders of the recent events of being stooges of aliens, including the US and Britain, since it was not proved for me. We should not proceed in dealing with those behind the protests on the basis of rumours and guesswork.”1 On September 20, with ‘reformist’ ex-president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani standing a couple of metres from him, he warned government supporters against accusing opposition members of wrongdoing without proof: “While a suspect’s own confession was admissible, his testimony or accusations could not be used to implicate others.”2 A clear dismissal of the show trials which have dominated the government’s agenda in the last few weeks, where ‘reformist’ prisoners accused Rafsanjani and fellow reformists Mohammad Khatami and Mir Hossein Moussavi of collaborating with foreign enemies.

Khamenei’s speech has pacified leaders of the ‘reformist’ movement, as shown by Rafsanjani’s conciliatory tone in a speech to the council of experts on September 22.3 But it is clearly too little too late as far as the protesters are concerned.

In another development, ayatollah Hosein-Ali Montazeri (once the designated successor to Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini), has replied to a letter from Moussavi, who was seeking guidance, in this way on September 22: “The path to reforming the current system is a very difficult one: the entire regime has lost credibility … A government that was supposed to be the pride of Shias throughout the world has turned the youth and the masses in our country against Islam and religion.”4

The September 18 protests came after three weeks of intensified workers’ protests. In Pars Wagon (train carriage makers), workers angry at non-payment of wages smashed tables and chairs in the canteen. In the Iran Khodro car plant, workers commemorated the death of a fellow worker who collapsed after working three successive shifts. Similar workers’ protests took place in Arj (manufacturer of electrical household goods), Arak Aluminium and many other workplaces. Although most of these protests started off in support of economic demands and against closures, whenever the security forces appeared this prompted the use of the now familiar slogan of “Death to the dictator” – an echo of “Death to the shah”, which dominated the workers’ protests of 1978-79.

Workers in Iran need our support and solidarity – against both imperialist threats and the repressive religious state.

Misogynist torturers cling to power

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

irandemoWorkers are growing in confidence, reports Yassamine Mather

Over the last few weeks, following the show trials of ‘reformist’ personalities and the imposition of even more severe forms of repression in Iran, the nature of protests has changed considerably.

However, demonstrations continue on a daily basis in Tehran and most other Iranian cities, with numbers attending ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand. Reports from the working class neighbourhoods of Tehran, such as Ekbatan, Apadana and Karaj, and from the white-collar suburbs of Tehran Pars, indicate that anti-government demonstrations take place every night and often lead to confrontation between protesters and Bassij militia.

Last week dozens of political prisoners started a hunger strike in Evin prison and on the first day of Ramadan families of those arrested in recent protests gathered outside calling for the immediate release of all political detainees. There are daily protests in factories and workplaces against the political and economic conditions and in some provinces, including Khorassan, there is news of peasants protesting against confiscation of their land by religious authorities. Five hundred peasants from Sarakhss have staged a sit-in for the last week in front of Mashad’s main petrol station, complaining about the use of religious legislation to expropriate their land.

The crisis in the government continues, with clear divisions between the conservative ‘principlists’ and the proposed government. On Thursday August 20 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled a cabinet boasting 11 new faces, including three women. Loyalty to the president seemed to be the main factor, as ‘conservative’ and ‘reformist’ MPs alike condemned the nominations. Clearly Ahmadinejad will face an uphill struggle getting them passed by the majles (parliament). Even the principlist faction seems to be opposed to most of the nominations, guaranteeing months of uncertainty and the continuation of the political crisis. According to the ILNA news agency, speaker Ali Larijani complained: “The ministry is not a place for apprenticeship; it is a place that requires expertise and experience”.

Iran’s defence minister-designate is on an Interpol ‘wanted’ list over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in Argentina. Interpol put out a ‘red notice’ for Ahmad Vahidi in 2007 over the Buenos Aires attack that killed 85 people. As for the women appointees, they were clearly chosen for their ultra-conservative views on everything – including women’s rights. These comments from Fatemeh Ajorloo, Ahmadinejad’s choice for minister of social services, speak volumes: “… it is men who go for khastegari [the custom of a man asking for a woman’s hand] and they remain responsible for the marriage. This is great: that is how society should operate. Why did the family break down in the west? Because women went to work and men lost their true role.” That was from a speech in defence of quotas for university entrance – the government believes too many women are going into higher education.

Ajorloo is also a defender of new legislation before the majles entitled ‘Efaf’ (chastity). She is in favour of a ‘uniform’ for Iranian women of all ages – a long black chador (a tent-like covering from head to toe, pinned under the chin) and, to be fair, she herself is a walking advertisement for this bizarre attire, as revealed by her official photos.

However, even tame Islamist women like Ajorloo are too much for Iran’s clerics. A number of senior ayatollahs have expressed opposition to Ahmadinejad’s decision to nominate women ministers. On August 22 conservative MPs told the media that leading Iranian clerics – including grand ayatollahs Nasser Makarem Shirazi and Lotfollah Safi Golpayghani – had “doubts about choosing female ministers and want Ahmadinejad to reconsider”, according to the Tehran Emrouz newspaper.

Defending his nominations for ministerial posts, Ahmadinejad managed to offend almost everyone by comparing his outgoing health minister, Kamran Lankarani, to a peach that any man would want to eat! A conservative MP, Ali Ghanbari, said it was beneath the president’s dignity to compare his minister with a fruit. A video of Ahmadinejad’s peach comments has been widely circulated on the internet and posted on blogs and social networking sites.

‘Against torture’

As the protests continue and news of atrocities in prisons and detention centres spreads, the anger against the ineffectiveness of ‘reformist leaders’ – some of whom are clearly involved in behind-the-scene deals with the conservative faction – grows.

The super-rich ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani is in the process of being rehabilitated in the centres of religious and political power. He was consulted by the supreme leader in the nomination of the new chief justice and attended his inauguration ceremony. Rafsanjani’s August 22 statement urging Iran’s political factions to follow orders from the supreme leader, had all the hallmarks of a new conciliatory move. Rafsanjani has also reportedly reiterated his previous call to politicians and the media to “avoid causing schisms” and “take steps toward the creation of unity”. Clearly for Iran’s ‘reformists’, the survival of the Islamic regime remains paramount.

Over the last two months ‘reformist’ presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi have done very little to improve their standing, falling far short of the expectations of their most ardent supporters. However, as news of the torture and death of protesters detained after recent demonstrations spread, first Karroubi and then Moussavi realised that unless they acted they would lose any credibility. First came the statement by Karroubi that he was enraged by the torture of demonstrators and then both men issued statements condemning the torture and rape of detainees – ‘reformist’ leaders say 69 protesters died in the post-election violence.

Although one should welcome any condemnation of torture, some of us cannot help remembering comrades who died under torture when Moussavi was prime minister and Karroubi was a close ally of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini – he was head of the Khomeini relief committee and the Martyrs’ Foundation between 1979 and 1989. Let me mention one in particular – comrade Nastaran, with whom I shared a room in Kurdistan. In the autumn of 1983 she left our Kurdistan Fedayeen base, having been given responsibility for a workers’ committee in south Tehran.

Nastaran was arrested a few months after returning to Tehran and, although she had tried to swallow her cyanide tablet (a standard practice among arrested Fedayeen members), she did not manage to commit suicide. Fellow prisoners, who saw her between the day of her incarceration and her untimely death are unanimous in describing the frightening state to which she was reduced following months of torture. She “couldn’t stand on her feet”, she had been lashed so many times. She “couldn’t see – her eyes were too swollen from all the beatings” …

Over the last week I have not stopped thinking about Nastaran. Maybe if messrs Moussavi and Karroubi had done something about torture in those days, she and thousands like her who died in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic would still be alive. But, of course, had they done so, their beloved Islamic Republic, the regime they still want to save, would not have survived the protests of the last three decades.

In 2009 the religious judiciary denies all accusations of torture and rape of prisoners as baseless – the detainees making these claims cannot even produce the basic prerequisite for a prosecution: witness statements from four male adults!

In the meantime the trials of ‘reformist’ leaders have continued and have featured on a tragicomic show on state TV. In addition to the ministers of ex-president Khatami and ideologues of the Islamic ‘reformist’ movement such as Saeed Hajjarian, the conservative faction is now trying in absentia German sociologists Max Weber and Jürgen Habermas!

Hajjarian, the prosecutor said, once met Habermas, who was famous for his theory of civil disobedience, according to which it is permissible to refuse to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government, or of an occupying power, without resorting to physical violence. The accusations against Weber were not mentioned in court (presumably because he died in 1920), but the Shia conservatives clearly do not like him either!

Last week Moussavi, Karroubi and Khatami launched a new front: the ‘green road to hope’. As the title suggests, this a road to nowhere, yet it is already clear that the front, which aims to “unite the opposition from below” with branches in every city and community, is organised from above. As time goes by, another generation of young Iranians is learning through practice not to have any illusions about reformists leaders whose only concern remains their tattered political careero:s. Yet in the absence of a powerful left, there is little prospect for real change in Iran.

If up until June 2009 factory owners and the government blamed the ‘world economic crisis’ for non-payment of workers’ wages, job cuts and mass unemployment, after June they have had another excuse: the protests paralysed the economy and that is why workers cannot be paid. No doubt Iran’s economy is in serious trouble, yet it is mainly the working class, the wage-earners, who are paying the price.

Over 1,500 major Iranian companies are on the verge of bankruptcy and they include major firms such as the Arak Automobile Factory and Azar Water Company. Iran Khodro, Iran’s main car plant, was only saved by an injection of over $1 billion by the government in early August. Managers of this factory and other major companies are encouraging workers to accept redundancy packages so that they can conform with the government policy of only employing temporary contract workers (Ahmadinejad’s last minister of labour had promised that by 2010 100% of Iran’s workforce will be employed on such contracts).

But workers are resisting. Kashan textile employees are amongst those staging demonstrations against the non-payment of wages – they have not been paid for 22 months. These workers have pointed out that their dispute with managers predates the current political crisis. This month there was a major dispute at the Pars Wagon Company, when workers destroyed the canteen in protest at non-payment of wages, smashing windows and breaking tables and chairs.

And workers in Haft Tapeh staged a noisy sit-in on Friday August 16 as part of a long-standing struggle with the factory’s management. They are demanding the implementation of an agreed job reclassification, increased wages, better overtime pay, an end to the logging of every task and no more sackings of contract workers.

There are also directly political protests in workplaces. On hearing of an impending visit by Ahmadinejad, workers at the Bandar Abbas shipyard threatened to go on strike in mid-August, saying they would not allow a “coup d’etat president” to visit.

News coverage of events in Iran often concentrates on what is happening amongst the ruling circles, but Pars metal workers protesting against job cuts, low wages and poor working conditions for the last six months say they will continue their protests until the media inside “Iran’s capitalist hell” is shamed into broadcasting their demands.

In other developments, a new formation in Tehran, the Council in Support of Iranian People’s Struggles, has become more active. It includes political organisations, women’s groups and sections of the independent left in opposition to the entire regime and in support of workers’ struggles.

Clearly most of these protests would have gone on irrespective of the political turmoil. However, the events of the last few weeks have given a new momentum to workers’ actions, whose slogans are now more political and less defensive. They are lasting longer and pose a real threat to the efforts of all factions of the regime to control the political situation and maintain the status quo.