Chris Strafford reports on the annual general meeting of Hands Off the People of Iran
On Saturday November 28 around 60 people gathered for Hands Off the People of Iran’s third conference. Motions condemning sanctions and threats of war against Iran and calling for a nuclear-free Middle East were overwhelmingly carried.
The conference was opened by national secretary Mark Fischer (CPGB), who outlined Hopi’s strengths as well as weaknesses. Whilst we have gained some smaller affiliations over the last year, we have not made a big breakthrough and it is important for Hopi to “up its game”, he said. The June elections in Iran and subsequent mass protests were “a defining political moment” in the history of the Islamic Republic, which totally vindicated Hopi’s stance.
Hopi has always called for the building of strong links between the democratic and revolutionary movements in Iran, whilst others in the movement – most notably the Socialist Workers Party, George Galloway and the sycophants that surround him – previously attacked us for ‘trying to dictate to the movement in Iran’. Some had even accused us of playing into the hands of imperialism for daring to criticise the theocratic regime. SWP members were left looking red-faced and sheepish when the leadership realised the way the wind was blowing and made a U-turn, coming out in favour of the millions of protestors who marched through the streets of Tehran and other cities (although SWP comrades on the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition continue to oppose Hopi’s affiliation). Galloway, however, has simply made himself look idiotic by defending not only the rigged elections and the subsequent repression, but also the Islamic republic itself.
Comrade Fischer went on to report our successful Hopi v Labour Representation Committee cricket match, which raised £1,000 for Workers’ Fund Iran, an organisation which aids workers in struggle and their organisations. He spoke briefly about our priorities over the coming year – firstly, building genuine internationalism through helping organisations like WFI; secondly, stepping up our campaign against sanctions; and, thirdly, developing our national infrastructure and branches, with the possibility of employing someone on a part-time basis.
Jim Jepps (Green Party), Hopi’s treasurer, gave a quick report on the current state of our finances, which he described as “modest” – we spent more than we raised last year. In the discussion Charlie Pottins (Jewish Socialist Group) urged Hopi to attend more demonstrations called outside the Iranian embassy, David Mather (Hopi Glasgow) said that Hopi needs to build its internet profile.
The next session was titled ‘Imperialism’s need for conflict and the situation in the Middle East’ with Moshé Machover (Matzpen founder) and Mike Macnair (CPGB). Comrade Macnair discussed US doctrine in the Middle East and its need as the imperialist hegemon to have undisputed military dominance. This means that, whatever Barack Obama may want to do, he is forced by events and the needs of US capital to carry on the strategy developed under the Bush government (for comrade Macnair’s speech, see ‘No way back for warmongers’).
Comrade Machover began his contribution by saying that Hopi should congratulate itself on putting forward the correct line against imperialist threats and sanctions, while supporting the movements in Iran. He said that the two major events of the last year were the elections in Iran and the election of Barack Obama. The US did not recognise that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan would strengthen the regime in Tehran and did not rule out the possibility that both wings of the regime could capitulate or do a deal with the American administration. However, the threat of war is growing – author Benny Morris, who is essentially acting as an unofficial spokesperson for the Israeli government, has warned that an Israeli attack on Iran is a foregone conclusion for the spring and summer of next year. Comrade Machover ended his speech by moving his motion, ‘For a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other WMDs’.
An amendment from Tina Becker (CPGB) to delete the demand for “democratic international supervision” of the decommissioning and non-development of all nuclear weapons and other WMDs on the grounds that it might be misunderstood to mean under the auspices of the United Nations. Peter Manson (CPGB) proposed an amendment from the floor to make it specific that Hopi is opposed to Iran attaining a nuclear weapon, the so-called ‘mullah’s bomb’. But this was rejected as unnecessary, as the motion’s opposition to the “development and manufacture of nuclear weapons” throughout the Middle East obviously included Iran.
The motion was opposed outright by Gerry Downing (Socialist Fight), who pursued the long established error of some in the Trotskyist movement of defending the ’mullah’s bomb’ on the lines that it would ward off attacks from the US and Israel and may one day become a “workers’ bomb”. He condemned the whole motion as “pacifist”.
John Bridge (CPGB) attacked comrade Downing’s defence of Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions by asking what kind of “workers’ bomb” it is that massacres workers. If the Soviet Union ever had used weapons against major cities in the US, the result would have been a massacre of the working class, the only force capable of stopping the drive to war and replacing capitalism with socialism, under which such weapons would be dismantled. A rewording of the demand for “democratic international supervision” was passed and the section was kept in the original motion, which passed overwhelmingly with only comrade Downing opposing.
After a quick lunch break comrades returned to the second session, which was opened by Marsha-Jane Thompson from the Labour Representation Committee, who read out a message of continued support from her organisation and John McDonnell MP. The session was presented by Cyrus Bina, author of Modern capitalism and Islamic ideology in Iran. Comrade Bina’s talk was titled ‘Why sanctions are not a “soft alternative” to war’ and he started by saying he considers himself a follower of Karl Marx. He said that sanctions are supplementary to war, and that they often are a precursor to military action and used to break the industrial base and civil society of countries in the sights of the imperialists.
He slammed those who said that demonstrations in Iran following the rigged elections had been made up of the middle classes, pointing out that on one occasion there were over three million on the streets. Comrade Bina went to say that sanctions hurt the workers and the poor far more than they damage the regime and even so-called “smart sanctions” would be detrimental to the lives of ordinary Iranians. The movement that has risen in Iran has international implications and it is important for socialists to build solidarity with its working class and progressive component.
The third session was introduced by Hopi chair Yassamine Mather (CPGB), who spoke on the session entitled ’Iran’s workers’ movement since the June 2009 elections’, and went on to move her motion against both sanctions and war. Comrade Mather explained that the oil workers, who were responsible for bringing the shah’s regime to its knees, have once again been discussing whether to strike or whether such action now would hit the working class and poor more than the regime – not least because an energy strike coupled with sanctions could result in power cuts and reduction in fuel for heating, when people need it most. The oil workers do not want to be seen as “part of US policy”.
During the discussion a leftwing supporter of the green movement in Iran argued that sanctions in Iraq had pushed the people towards a reactionary government and would similarly strengthen the faltering regime in Iran. Andrew Coates (Hopi Ipswich) argued that Hopi has and should continue to undercut those who argue that Ahmadinejad is some kind of progressive or defend the regime because it is nominally anti-imperialist. Comrade Mather said that the reformists are getting very nervous about the protests, as they have become more radical and have evolved from simple calls for a rerun of the elections to outright rejection of the Islamic republic. The resolution was passed unanimously.
The third motion, ‘Day of solidarity with Iranian workers’, moved by Ben Lewis (CPGB), called for Hopi fundraising event like this year’s cricket match. This was passed unanimously.
The final motion from Hopi steering committee member Charlie Pottins was titled ‘No to state murders’. Comrade Pottins argued that Hopi and the whole of the movement needs to condemn the murder of oppositionists and stressed the barbarity of the regime against national minorities such as the Kurds. On November 11 Ehsan Fattahian, a Kurdish socialist, was executed by the Islamic Republic. The motion also called for Hopi, while rejecting Zionist and imperialists propaganda that compares the Islamist regime with Hitler fascism, to condemn the hosting of a holocaust denial conference in Tehran. This motion was disputed by several comrades who wanted it referred back to the steering committee for rewording, and some amendments came from the floor. In the end, however, it was passed unaltered by a clear majority.
Overall the day showed Hopi’s strengths and weaknesses. Whilst the events of the past year have vindicated our stand, as opposed to the apologists of the Iranian regime, we now need to move forward by pulling in new forces and ensuring that activists are aided by a strong steering committee and national organisation.