New era, new focus

The nuclear deal means we must refocus our campaigning priorities

If anyone had any doubts about the new relations between Iran’s Islamic Republic and the west, the messages by Iranian and US leaders on the occasion of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, will show that a dramatic change has occurred.

President Barack Obama said that, although the nuclear deal was “never intended to resolve all disputes between the United States and Iran”, it nonetheless “opened a new window of dialogue” and made it possible for Iran to “rejoin the global economy” through increased trade and investment, creating jobs and opportunities for Iranians to “sell their goods around the world”.

In his own congratulatory message, Obama’s counterpart in Iran, Hassan Rowhani, called for internal reconciliation following bitter divisions around last month’s elections. Reminding the country that “sanctions aimed at banks, oil, finance, money, petrochemicals, insurance, transport, and all nuclear-related sanctions have been lifted”, he declared that the scene was set for “our people’s economic activities”. Thanks to “god’s favour” and “the people’s efforts”, Iran got through the last year and now “without a doubt we all can create an Iran which is worthy of this great nation.”

Rowhani stated that the Iranian revolution had been “for Islam and morality”, and so, “in our revolutionary society, there should be no trace of lies, false accusations, mistrust, bad language and irritability. In our society, there should be no trace of corruption.” Hardly the Iran that most of its people would recognise.

While Rowhani said that further engagement with other countries was the key to economic growth, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, seemed to disagree. What was needed was “self-sufficiency” and a “resistance economy”. After all, in Khamenei’s eyes, the “government of the US” is still Iran’s “enemy”. The Islamic Republic should take steps to reduce its vulnerability to the designs of the US and other “enemies”, he said.

Sometimes it is difficult to decide whether one should laugh at Khamenei’s hypocrisy or cry at his self-deception. Here is a man leading a country where the ‘approved’ president and his government are embarking on a major project to persuade transnationals to invest in Iran and take advantage of its cheap skilled labour, so that Iran can be fully integrated into global capitalism, which is still headed by a single hegemonic military and economic power, the United States. It is a country where the president’s opponents in the more rightwing factions have no hesitation in working with capitalists of any nationality, as long as they themselves can take their own cut, aided by corruption and the black market. Yet Khamenei is still going on about “self-sufficiency” and the “economy of resistance”. He is either delusional or an accomplished liar.

Irrespective of all this, the nuclear deal has marked a new phase in Iran’s relations with the west. There is no longer a threat of military action against the country. Of course, given the tumultuous situation in the Middle East, the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, the conflicts in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere, all this could change dramatically and suddenly. No doubt the election of a Republican president, whether it is Donald Trump or one of his rivals, would signal an end to the “new window of dialogue” and a return to a conflict situation.

Nevertheless, we in Hands Off the People of Iran have decided that the case for a shift in the nature of our campaign is clear. It is no longer a case of opposing imperialist war against Iran. We need to concentrate our focus on the struggles against the neoliberal economic policies of the government by the Iranian working class – they are a beacon of hope in a region devastated by war and conflict. Our organisation will need a new name to reflect the changed circumstances.


The campaigning anti-war organisation, Hands Off the People of Iran, was founded in 2007 and quickly established itself as a principled focus for activists in the movement who understood it was possible and necessary to oppose the threat of imperialist war against Iran without dressing up the country’s rulers as ‘anti-imperialist’ or maintaining a diplomatic silence on their repressive crimes against the working people of the country. We are proud of the record of our campaign, but it is clear that these are challenging new political times in the Middle East and, in particular, that the new relationship between Iran and the west presents us with important new tasks.

The country’s rulers have complied with the nuclear agreement signed in July 2015 with the five ‘official’ nuclear powers (United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia) plus Germany. This has opened up a new period of cooperation and a degree of rapprochement between Tehran and US-led imperialism.

Given this new political context, Hopi activists have held discussions on the future of the campaign. The west, and in particular US imperialism, has emerged victorious from this confrontation. Of course, we have to remain alive to the possibility of new conflicts arising. The situation in Syria and Iraq, as well the Palestinian people’s struggles against Israeli colonisation, continue to be destabilising factors. In addition, the danger remains frighteningly real of regional wars, such as those in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, escalating and dragging others into the maelstrom. However, it seems clear that the prospect of an imminent imperialist attack on Iran has considerably receded.

There is no doubt that the relaxation of tensions and the lifting of sanctions will mean an improvement in the material wellbeing of many working people in Iran. They, after all, are the ones who have borne the heaviest burden in the sanctions period. However, it will not mean a relaxation of the political oppression of the Iranian people by the regime. In fact, the rapprochement with its external enemy will free the Iranian ruling elite to concentrate on its internal enemy: the working class and its allies. As the threat of conflict with the US recedes, the regime will step up the domestic class war.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rowhani, and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, have already sent very clear messages to foreign capital. Iran is open for business and its labour force – intimidated by years of recession, mass unemployment and the regime’s brutal repression – will accept low wages, poor conditions and vicious exploitation. These overtures have also been backed up by practical examples of the regime’s style of ‘labour discipline’. Thus, we have seen the brutal attack by the paramilitary Basij on a group of striking factory employees in Kalaleh, an assault brazenly reported by pro-regime media outlets as one of a number of exercises by this militia in preparation for future actions against protesting workers.

In these new circumstances, we need to refocus the work of Hands Off the People of Iran, to give it a different emphasis, a new style of work, and this must be reflected in a different name. In contrast to others, Hopi has been implacable in its commitment to the principle that the only consistent anti-war, anti-imperialist and democratic force in Iran and beyond is the working class. Now is the time to step up our solidarity with the beleaguered workers’ movement in that country, as the reactionary regime – having made important concessions on the international stage – looks to consolidate its repressive hold on domestic power.

Hands Off the People of Iran



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