Protests and the bigger picture

This is Yassamine Mather’s introduction to a recent meeting on the protests in Iran- watch the video here. A google-translated Farsi version is here:

We are here to discuss recent events in Iran and their national and regional repercussions.

The demonstrations have been going on for four months now. The regime has reacted by executing four and killing hundreds of others during various clashes.

Some on the Iranian left have described this as a revolutionary situation, but I hesitate to do this for various reasons. True, the protests are continuing – on January 8, for example, we saw major demonstrations in most Iranian cities. However, they are much more sporadic – repression is taking its toll and the threat of further executions are taken very seriously. Also internet communication is hampered and as a result of all this we are mostly witnessing specific protests that mark a particular event, such as those marking the anniversary of the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in 2020, carrying mainly Iranian passengers. It was targeted by either the Iranian army or the Revolutionary Guards, who apparently mistook it for a US rocket.

There are also many demonstrations marking the 40th day since the death of people who died at the hands of the security forces during protests. We can certainly say that the government is facing a serious crisis. However, so far there has been no rebellion within the security forces themselves – we do not see soldiers or low-ranking security agents turning their guns against their officers. However, no-one can deny that even the conservative factions within the Islamic Republic regime are now talking of the need for fundamental reform. Of course, everyone is aware that such calls are too little, too late, and unlikely to change the course of events. So what we are seeing are attempts at lengthening the life of the regime, but right now we are not witnessing open conflict within the ruling circles – we are not at that stage yet.

I should add that workers’ protests are gaining momentum, although we are still in the initial stages of nationwide strike action.

Under these circumstances we must get to grips with a number of issues. First, the regional context – this is important, because, obviously, there is a new government in Israel and, at least in terms of rhetoric, it seems determined to start a military conflict with Iran’s Islamic Republic. At the same time there are many conservatives in the Iranian regime who are hoping that conflict with Israel, or maybe even some other power, will save them; in some ways it will be god’s gift to divert attention from protests that are today challenging their rule.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have done their best over the last three months to increase divisions within Iran by using national and ethnic minorities as pawns. But this has not worked so far. That does not mean that it will never work, but currently, as some Iranian leftwing websites have been pointing out, inside the country we seem to be in a ‘post-nationalist’, ‘post-ethnic’ era. For example, the protests in Kurdistan are supported by Baluchistan, with its slogans about the Azerbaijan region, and there seems to be a sense of solidarity.

This can easily be ended and there are a number of dangerous alternative possibilities. Some, including rightwing royalists, former or current Mojahedin, and even some on the so-called Iranian exile ‘left’, are actively seeking US support for regime change in Iran. All sorts of alternatives are being considered by, amongst others, the US, and these could certainly increase national and ethnic tensions.

Mike Macnair will talk about the illusions of the Iranian left – in exile and maybe even inside Iran. I have personally given up hope in the exile left, but even inside Iran, the left seems to believe that these protests can achieve fundamental change without any organisation, plan or strategy.

The Iranian left has suffered many defeats and there seems to be a phobia about central issues, such as working class organisation within a principled party, plus the nature of socialism and the aim of communism. Instead sections of the left talk about the current protests being spontaneous and celebrate this. In one sense I would also celebrate this spontaneity – at least the protests are not being led by the right wing, but, according to some, such spontaneity will automatically lead to a revolution. They believe that workers’ councils, etc, will evolve into a revolutionary regime.

Amongst some on the Iranian left this obsession with spontaneity, combined with a phobia against anything that is Marxist-organised or party-orientated, has led them to put aside the whole history of the last 44 years since the 1979 Islamic revolution. At that time we saw the setting up of reactionary Islamic councils, yet some on the ‘left’ are not ruling out the formation of similar councils as part of the mass action against the regime. We need to address such matters – and not least the concept of the principled unity of the left, which again seems to be being neglected. Of course, there have been many failed attempts at political unity, but that does not justify the current isolationist mood.

But let us start with Moshé Machover, who will talk about the regional context, including the ‘cold war’ that has been going on between Iran and Israel, plus the potential threat of real war.

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