Home Articles The historical origins of the Iranian Revolution- parts 1 to 4
The historical origins of the Iranian Revolution- parts 1 to 4 Print E-mail

 

 

The historical origins of the Iranian Revolution and the tasks of the Revolutionary Marxists – Parts One to four

taken from

http://www.marxist.com/

 

part one

What started in summer 2009 in Iran with the mass movement in the aftermath of the Presidential elections was clearly the beginning of a revolution, obvious by its most indubitable feature, .i.e. the forcible entry of the masses onto the scene of history. This process from the early beginnings has posed the question of power in society. With the radicalization of the movement this question has increasingly gained importance. The Iranian Revolution is already capturing the attention of the masses of the world. In the last few months the movement has taken steps forward into spheres no one thought possible. With its disregard for any authority and its rapidly rising confidence in its own powers, the movement of the Iranian masses is inspiring millions of workers and poor. It is now given that the fall of the Islamic regime is inevitable and will come sooner or later. But that will be only the beginning of a period of sharp class struggle in Iran which can potentially end with the overthrow of the capitalist system and its replacement by the rule of the workers and masses.

The ruling classes are aware of this and that is why they have also concentrated all their attention towards the struggle. They know that this struggle may at some point turn against the capitalist system as a whole.

So it cannot come as a surprise that the movement is attracting attention from all revolutionaries and Marxists. We aim to bring to the movement a clear Marxist understanding of the tasks that lie ahead and the best strategies to achieve victory. In order to do that, we must firstly study and come to an understanding of the roots of the movement.

How could there be such an explosion based on the outcome of these elections? Every Iranian knows very well that none of the candidates represented any real change. At most they represented different shades of the ultra-reactionary ruling clique of Iran. Even if we disregard this, vote rigging is not a new thing in Iran either. In fact many Iranians believe that Ahmadinejad largely won the previous elections because of widespread fraud. And finally if Mousavi had even won officially he had made it very clear that he was completely loyal to the Islamic regime.

Capitalism in Iran

In the last analysis, the cause behind the revolutionary developments in Iran is to be found in the general crisis of the capitalist system which is no longer able to develop the productive forces and take society forward. On the contrary, the system is becoming the heaviest burden on society dragging it down towards barbarism.

In the early days of capitalist society the bourgeois played a progressive role developing the productive forces and bringing society forward. But Iran’s arrival into the capitalist world came too late for this. Every step Iran took towards capitalism was due to foreign pressure and direct interference of, especially, Russian and British Imperialism. But even with this factor, capitalist relations in Iran remained extremely isolated, limited and mostly stagnant. The geographical aspects of Iran did not help development. Iran is the world’s 18th largest country, covering 1,648,195 square kms (almost as big as Germany, France, Spain and the UK all put together!) and consisting of five mountain chains surrounding one desert. Ervand Abrahamian explains the implications of this in his famous book, Iran - between two revolutions:

"Even at the end of the century [1800 – M.A.] the important road between the south port of Mohammerah (Khorramshahr) and Tehran was so slow that to get from the latter to the former it was quicker to travel from the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea by boat, from Erzerum to the Caspian by land, from Baku to Enzeli (Pahlevi) by boat again, and finally from Enzeli to Tehran by land. This lack of transport created periodic crises in which one region could starve from famine while a neighboring region was enjoying a good harvest."

The rugged terrain and the long distances did not allow for any development in trade and commerce. Only after finding vast oil resources in Iran did the industrialization of the country really accelerate and capitalist production became the dominant mode of production. Although this happened more than a century ago there are still many remnants of the old society in parts of Iran.

So Iran did not become a part of world capitalism through a linear process of capitalist development. The country was painfully dragged into the world market by the imperialist countries, especially Britain and Russia who divided Iran up between them. Through a series of major defeats in the eighteenth century the domination of imperialism was consolidated.

It was especially the discovery of vast oil resources in the beginning of the 20th century that finally made Iran an important part of world capitalist production. So although most of the country's inhabitants lived and worked in pre-capitalist relations, the country as a whole developed through the laws of world capitalism. Characterising this development was the fact that the industrial infrastructure, the factories, built in Iran after the introduction of capitalism was not built by and for a rising class of bourgeois, but by and for the narrow needs of Russian and British imperialism. Facing this large scale production and cheap goods of the imperialists, no merchant or shop-owner (or government) had a chance.

The semi-colonization of Iran gave a combined and uneven character to the social development of the country. By the time the Iranian petite bourgeoisie, being itself brought to the fore by imperialism, was ready to make a capitalist revolution it was too late. The Iranian Constitutional Revolutions (a bourgeois revolution in 1905-1911) challenged the landed aristocracy and their power over the state. It had the goals of creating a parliamentary democracy, a new constitution, to throw imperialism out of Iran, to separate the Islamic institutions from the state and to carry out land reforms. Although it did give a fatal blow to the old modes of production, the main aspirations of the revolution did not crystallise. Capitalism on a world scale was in a period of rising imperialist antagonisms. It could not give any concessions - not even a puppet parliament or a mock constitution. The country entered the capitalist world fully engulfed in crisis. Besides, the middle classes who led this revolution were too entangled with imperialism to be able to seriously challenge it. At every step of the revolution the movement would split internally. In the end the movement did not even succeed in breaking completely with the old modes of production in much of the rural areas. Although the landed classes were weakened they kept power until they themselves changed their base and became industrialists 50 years later.

With the working class too young and weak to play a role, the revolution had many difficulties in holding on to its victories. After a civil war and a period of immense instability, the vicious dictatorship of Reza Shah rose in the late 1920s.

A century of revolution and counter-revolution

Mohammed Reza Shah  and US President Truman in 1949Mohammed Reza Shah and US President Truman in 1949Since the Constitutional Revolution stability has been a rare thing in Iranian society. The last 100 years have seen an almost constant shift between periods of totalitarian dictatorships and revolutionary or pre-revolutionary movements. Periods of "tranquillity" and "peaceful" coexistence have mainly been the result of harsh repression. Iranian capitalism, being completely dependent and submissive towards imperialism, could not afford any concessions to the masses. This in turn meant that any struggle of any part of the masses, if sustained, would quickly be turned into a struggle against the regime itself - and the reaction would therefore be equally explosive.

These conditions held Iranian society into an almost constant deadlock interrupted by the most massive explosions. Big movements occurred in the late 1920s, late 1940s to the mid 1950s, mid sixties, late 1970s and the present movement dating its roots to 1999. All of these, except for the first, could be characterized as revolutionary or pre-revolutionary. The present situation is fully in accord with the previous ones and basically reflects the same underlying causes. The main characteristics separating each movement from the previous was the growing working class setting its imprint as a more and more the leading social force.

Roots of the 1979 revolution

The Revolution of 1979 occurred at a time when Iran had undergone a massive period of industrialization. In the sixties the Shah had completed the "white revolution" which was supposed to be a land reform in the interests of the millions of landless peasants. This was an attempt to introduce reforms from above to prevent revolutionary explosions from below. But in practice it had the effect of consolidating and strengthening the position of the royal family and its closest allies. Helped by the US, the reforms also helped shift the base of this clique towards industrialism.

In this process, and through other laws passed in this period, the layers immediately beneath this small group were heavily attacked; especially the clergy - who had always been a loyal supporter of the Shah - and the bazaaris were also hit hard. Besides the massive amounts of mosque-land that was confiscated, the Shah set up his own religious institutions to challenge the authority of the clergy. The bazaaris were attacked by heavy price dumping, uneven taxation and by the setting up of state supermarkets that bought products directly from the manufacturers cutting out the natural middle man - the bazaari.

Besides attacking the top layers of the petite bourgeoisie, the reforms decisively cut the bonds of millions of people from the rural areas and pushed them into the cities. From the 1950s through to the late 1970s the urban population grew from 20% to 50% of the total population.

At the same time the ruling clique tried to shift their economic base from land to industrial mass production. High oil prices, protectionism and military aid from the US, together with the post-war economic boom created conditions where they felt that they could build and consolidate a strong position for Iran in the world market. Oil revenues alone rose from $34 million in 1954-55 to $437 million in 1962-63, to $5 billion in 1973-74, to $20 billion in 1975-76.

Mass demonstration  during revolution of 1979Mass demonstration during revolution of 1979This income was the backbone for the heavy industrialization that the country went through in this period. Staggering sums where channelled into the economy through cheap loans and direct investment, but this by no means meant that all the people of Iran benefited from it. This is illustrated by the fact that a group of only 1000 individuals owned, not only the big industrial farms, but also 85 % of all major private firms.

Although the Shah also spent some money on patchy welfare plans, inequality was still rising. The huge palaces and extravagant lifestyles of the Iranian oligarchs were in stark contrast to life in the shanty towns or even the middle class neighbourhoods of Tehran. In 1973 the total urban household expenditure of the poorest 50 percent of the population accounted for 16.8 percent of total expenditure. Ten years earlier, in 1960, the percentage had been 19.7. In the same period the richest 20 percent of the population went from accounting for 51.7 to 55.4 percent of total urban household expenditures. This happened at a time, when GNP was rising by up to 15-20 percent each year. Yet this does not tell the whole story. The statistics only show the how much people spend. One has to remember that big capitalists rarely spend all their money while ordinary workers and poor mostly have no other choice!

In the second half of the 1970s these factors became magnified by recession and spiralling inflation. The burdens of the economic crisis under capitalism are always unloaded onto the backs of the working class and the poor masses. Iran in the 1970s was by no means an exception. Getting a minimal benefit from the boom, the workers and poor were now pushed down into poverty with accelerating force.

From 1971-76 rents in residential parts of Tehran rose by 300 percent. A middle class family could be spending up to 50% of their yearly income on rent alone. All social programs were stopped or cut substantially; unemployment exploded. The living standards of the masses were quickly deteriorating.

Trying to defend his position in recession conditions, the Shah started attacking the middle classes even harder. Harsh laws against "corruption" and "profiteering" were drawn up. In reality they were aimed at the bazaaris and even some of the allies of the Shah himself. At the same time growing social tensions were becoming evident to many parts of the ruling clique. This created splits at the top over how to act against this. The American presidential candidate at the time, Jimmy Carter, stated that America should do more to protect civil and political liberties in Iran ‑ a statement that should be put into the context of three decades of adamant and wholehearted American support for the regime.

These splits within the ruling clique created a possibility for the masses to push through the cracks like a wedge. Demonstrations and strikes increased dramatically. Especially writers, poets, intellectuals, students and middle class bazaaris were in the front line at the beginning.

Especially the Bazaaris, some of whom were hard hit by fines for "profiteering", were quickly able to create some momentum. With all of them being located at central areas of each city and having a network throughout the country made them very dangerous for the regime who came down hard against demonstrations. The bazaaris used the mosques and the mullahs, with whom many of them had good ties, to gather and mobilize their forces. The mosque was one of the few places one could gather during the period of the Shah. Although they resisted much to begin with, the mullahs were soon pressured to play an organizing role on a national level. Where the Bazaar had networks in every city the mosque had one throughout the country.

Beginning in early 1978, strikes and demonstrations were on the order of the day. Democratic demands such as the release of political prisoners and freedom of expression, especially for the press that had been raised for a long time were now driven to the forefront and the movement kept gathering momentum.

Seeing that they could not stop the movement the regime chose to loosen its grip and let a little steam out of the growing dissatisfaction. A new prime minister, Jafar Sharif-Emami, was installed in late August. Activity by political parties was legalized — of course the left was excluded. The army was pulled off the streets and a lot of political prisoners were freed. But as always, when a revolutionary wave is rising, neither reform nor repression can stop it.

The loosening of the regime’s grip therefore only fuelled the movement that had been brewing below the surface. Immediately the formation of trade unions started and strike activity accelerated. To begin with the demands of the strike movement only affected isolated companies and were limited to economic demands like higher wages, but this was soon to change.

In the beginning of September a strike movement started, that would lead to a decisive general strike. After some demonstrators were gunned down, machine-tool workers in Tabriz and oil refinery workers in Tehran came out on strike. This was the spark that lit the flame. At the Isfahan steel mills 30,000 men came out on strike; and throughout the country hundreds of thousands of industrial workers took strike action.

Of special importance were the oil-workers. Their strike, spreading to almost all installations, was the most famous and also the most crucial. It cost the regime more than $50 million dollars a day.

The general strike crippled the regime, cutting of all supplies of money and goods. This was the decisive factor, bringing the regime to its knees. The strike not only crippled the regime economically; it also posed the question of power in society in the most concrete way. Who had the right to rule? This was now an open question that would be resolved through further struggle. At the same time the strike opened up more room for the mass protests to grow even stronger.

The regime, in a last desperate effort, decided to hand power to a military government in November 1978. But the military government only succeeded in holding down the uprising for a few days after which strike activity began anew. By the end of November victory was evident. From this point on, all acts by the government were aimed at buying time to move as many assets as possible out of the country.

The economic effects of the strike combined with the demonstration of power by the working class and the millions on the streets every day, created the conditions where some soldiers in the army began to cross over to the side of the revolution. This was the final blow that made the last remaining defenders of the regime capitulate or flee in January 1979. The tops of the army, advised by the US administration, promised not to interfere in politics. In return they avoided both disintegration and dissolution.

The gravestone of the totalitarian dictatorship of the Shah had been laid and it was signed by the working class and the poor masses of Iran. The Shah left Iran in the middle of February 1979.

The vacuum of power created by his fall could have been filled by the working class, but the mistaken policies of the main working class organizations allowed for the revolution to be defeated.

 

 

 part 2

 An “Islamic” Revolution? Revolution and Counter-Revolution, 1979 to 1983

Mass demonstration  during revolution of 1979Mass demonstration during revolution of 1979Many "analysts", "historians" and "experts" refer to the Iranian revolution of 1979 as the Islamic Revolution. In reality, however, Khomeini and the clergy leadership represented a bloody counter-revolution. In the final analysis they represented the interests of the old privileged classes and of world capitalism. This is portrayed in the single fact, that in spite of all the thunderous shouts of "death to America" they never did anything to hurt or even weaken the position of American imperialism on the contrary they were later revealed to have borrowed money and bought arms from many western countries, including America.

Khomeini, who was an obscure mullah exiled in Najaf, Iraq, only came to the fore when British, French and American imperialists brought him to Paris, put him under the spotlight with regular appearances in the media like such as the BBC and finally at the Conference of Guadeloupe they decided to support his bid for power. This was in line with the support given by the US to the reactionary Islamists, who had been hitherto very marginal forces, in other countries of the region like Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the aim of building a “Green Belt” of Islamism around the Soviet Union. They had understood the possible leftist and socialist potential of the Iranian Revolution and supported the Khomeini Counter-revolution because of its anti-left, anti-socialist potential.

The true leaders of the Iranian revolution were those worker leaders who lead the general strike. Without the working class going on strike, the Shah would probably not have been toppled and in any case the history of the revolutionary movement would have been many times bloodier, probably ending with a massive defeat or at best a bloody civil war. The main base of the strike was in the oil industry, an industry with strong communist traditions.

These leaders, regardless of whether they were officially members or not, followed the politics, leadership and traditions of the Tudeh party or parties who in the last analysis followed the lead of the Tudeh party. (It is a fact that 35% of the workers’ leaders in the strike called themselves Marxists). The Organization of People Fadayi (Sacrificing) Guerrillas, a petit bourgeois grouping with Narodnik tendencies, had been initially formed, among other groups, in opposition to what it described as the “Betrayal” of the Tudeh and its subservience to the Soviet bureaucracy on every single subject. At the time of the Shah’s fall, the Fadayian were a small group of leftist militants. But in the period of relative freedom following the fall, they quickly grew to at least half a million reliable supporters. We also saw an explosive growth of all leftist organisations which rapidly expanded their base. This proves that the class contradictions were coming to fore and there was massive interest in Socialist ideas. Remarkably, however, at the moment of truth, the large majority of this organization split to form the Fadayian Majority which gave full support to the Moscow-dictated Tudeh, calling it the New Party of the Iranian Working Class. (We will shortly deal with the fate of other Fadayi factions that did not support the Tudeh or the regime).

The Tudeh and the Menshevik theory of stages

Throughout the history of the last century many revolutions, led by so called communist parties, failed and ended in bitter defeat. This is also the case in Iran. This has led many to think that capitalism is too strong, Islam has got a magic hold of the Iranian people, the working class is too weak or that the concepts of socialism, revolution and workers’ power are utopian ideas, that will inevitably lead to defeat. This could not be farther from the truth.

In all the revolutions of the last century, and especially in the Iranian revolution of 1979, there were many opportunities for the workers’ parties to take power and establish a democratic workers’ state. The key to the question is to be found in the Menshevik theory of stages that the Stalinist parties throughout the world adopted, and which in the end led one revolution after the other to bloody defeat.

The logic of this “two-stage” theory is as follows: Since we live in an economically backward country or under a dictatorship, the first task of the revolution is of a bourgeois nature - to implement bourgeois democracy. This must mean that it is the bourgeoisie or the progressive bourgeoisie that must lead the revolution and therefore, we must support these forces first of all.

The problem with this theory, that has been used in many different forms throughout the last hundred years, is that it completely disregards the fact that capitalism on a world scale has lost all its progressive traits and can never play a progressive role. This is even more so in the case of the bourgeoisie in the backward capitalist countries. Without breaking completely with capitalism no real progress can be obtained. The material interests of the bourgeoisie, no matter what parts of it, are completely in opposition to the interests of the masses and the revolution.

Lenin explained in 1905:

"The bourgeoisie in the mass will inevitably turn towards the counter-revolution, and against the people as soon as its narrow, selfish interests are met, as soon as it 'recoils' from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!)". (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 98)

Trotsky explained further with the theory of the permanent revolution:

"With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses...

“The dictatorship of the proletariat which has risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution is inevitably and, very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfilment of which is bound up with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property. The democratic revolution grows over directly into the socialist revolution and thereby becomes a permanent revolution." (Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, 10. What is the Permanent Revolution? Basic Postulates, 1931)

The Tudeh Party in 1979 followed the two-stage theory. Their characterization of the stage of the revolution was formulated in the Party's programme and adopted in its 15th plenum:

"This revolution, at the present historical stage of our society's development cannot but be a popular and democratic one in character. The content of the revolution is to eliminate the domination of imperialism's monopolies from the economic and natural resources of our country, to secure the total economic and political independence, to remove all the remnants of the pre-capitalist social system and adopt the socialist orientation of development, to democratize the political and cultural life in the country. At this stage, the necessary condition for revolutionary development in Iran is the overthrow the old monarchist regime, to break down the reactionary machinery of the government, to end the rule of the big capitalists and landowners and transfer power from these classes to the national and democratic classes and strata, to the workers, peasants, petit bourgeoisie, patriotic intellectuals and also the national bourgeoisie strata, in other words the establishment of the national and democratic republic... The only way to achieve the popular and democratic revolution is by the participation of the masses in the struggle and not by the heroic actions of either individuals or single political group and party." (Documents and viewpoints, p. 690)

At no point did the party take up the need to break with capitalism and at no point did they prepare the working class for the betrayal of Khomeini. On the contrary they provided him with much support and in reality a base within the workers’ movement and partially the broader masses. Even in August 1979 where it was already clear to many that Khomeini was moving against the workers and Communist organisations, the Tudeh still clung to the idea of an alliance with the mullahs:

"With deepest regret, we are witnessing that a turn to the right in the political situation in our country has emerged in recent weeks. This change has dealt a painful and horrifying blow to the basis of the unity of national and democratic forces... Nevertheless, we are facing a reality today that on one hand a major attack has been started to suppress freedom and in the first place the freedom of the true left revolutionary forces who struggle under the banner of Islam ..." (Documents and statements of TPI)"

The falsity of the so-called "democratic and national" character of Khomeini was clearly shown when, after having used the support of the Tudeh to confuse the workers, he then turned against them and massacred thousands of Communist militants and banned the party.

In the end the Tudeh policies of giving support to the mullahs, which they identified as part of the "national democratic" forces, effectively disarmed and confused the workers. What they should have done was to have an independent class line making it clear that the interests of the workers, peasants and poor masses are in direct opposition with the interests of the bourgeoisie. Without doing this they opened an avenue for demoralisation and disintegration of the forces of the left, thus leaving the working class and other revolutionary forces unarmed against the fascist attacks of the clergy and their thugs.

Of course the rank and file communists in the broad term only adopted this policy on the basis of a lack of a clear and sizeable alternative, but for the leaders of the Tudeh following Moscow's line of the two-stage theory was only a means of derailing the revolution as they had done in the past.

The Tudeh leadership (and other mass parties, like the Fadayian Majority that tail-ended it) because of its loyalty to the Stalinist regime of the Soviet Union had no interest in the toppling of the Shah, with whom the Soviet bureaucracy had a good relationship. Furthermore, had a democratic workers’ state been built on the borders of the Soviet Union, this could have inspired the Soviet workers against the bureaucracy.

So while the leaders on the ground were Tudehis and communist, the leading organs and institutions of the party did not provide leadership of the movement on a national level. On the contrary, they maintained a hesitant and even conciliatory stance towards the clergy, who they considered the "progressive" bourgeoisie.

Regardless of this, the workers on their own went even further, extending their strike committees to become committees that practically were in control of the daily running of the factories and in some cases linking them up on a city level. Although this development was mostly accelerated after the Shah left, their formation had started during the general strike.

These committees represented the embryo of workers’ power. Their further development could have lead to them becoming the main organs of a democratic workers’ state. But again the Tudeh leaders failed at the moment of truth. Instead of promoting a massive campaign of workers’ committees and councils (Shoras) in all factories and neighbourhoods, connected at city and national level, their main campaign was for the conversion of these committees into trade unions. In the situation that existed then, this was an evidently reactionary demand! It is a given that Marxists are always in favour of democratic demands like the right to form a union, the right to strike, etc. However, in the situation when workers could have led the movement to overthrow the regime and take the power themselves, abolishing capitalist relations, raising solely those demands was miles behind the objective situation and mood of the movement and it only served to sow confusion among the working class, holding them back from carrying out their burning tasks.

This move by the Tudeh leaders effectively disarmed the workers, who were not given the opportunity to develop their natural weapons for political struggle and power. So when the Shah finally fled there was no developed apparatus within the working class that could take power.

At every single major turning point in the revolution the Tudeh leaders were miles behind their rank and file. In fact the Tudeh did not declare the situation a revolutionary one, before mid January. Instead of being at the head of the movement, the Tudeh leadership were acting as its tail. But by January the revolution was not only beginning, it was reaching or had passed its climax. To declare then that the situation of Iran was revolutionary was too little, too late. Of course there were speeches, declarations, resolutions, but curiously enough the Tudeh leaders never took any practical steps to defend an independent revolutionary stance for a united working class.

Instead the Tudeh leaders took the opportunist stance of support for the "progressive" (petit) bourgeoisie in the form of the mullahs. As always with sectarians or opportunists, they face the movement of the petit bourgeois either by embracing the whole movement and subjugating the working class to it, or rejecting it all together. Of course either way the working class loses because it is isolated while the initiative and the leadership over the broad mass of people is left in the hands of their so called “leaders”. The truth is that the middle classes in Iran, also influenced by the Shia clergy, constituted a broad mass of people with conflicting interests. The true revolutionary policy would have been to build an independent and united workers’ movement while at the same time appealing to the masses within lower layers of the middle classes, driving a wedge between them and the insignificant top layers who in a thousand ways were interlinked with the ruling elites and in all cases represented the same interests.

In Iran the bourgeoisie long ago lost any progressive attributes. The bourgeois, no matter how much in opposition to the ruling cliques, cannot play any progressive role. The reason is not the lack of will, but because the system that they represent long ago stopped playing any progressive role. At every step the advanced decomposition of capitalism will force it to oppose progress.

This process quickly crystallized in Iran after the fall of the Shah. In the months and years following his fleeing the country, the new regime manoeuvred to crush all the forces that had brought it to power, first attacking the Turkman autonomy movement in March 1979 (which was led by the nominally Marxist Fadayian), then attacking the Arab autonomy movement in July and the Kurdish in August. In all these attacks the regime also leaned on the old landlords to crush the movements that also had ties to the peasants now demanding land reform.

It is to be noted that the atmosphere after the fall of Shah was very much to the left and class contradictions were coming to the fore. We have already referred to the massive and explosive growth of leftist organisations, which between them had hundreds of thousands of supporters (not counting the Mojahedin, an Islamic leftist group, with equal strength and influence all over the country). But we should not forget that Khomeini and his regime themselves gained popularity only by resorting to leftist talk and “anti-imperialist” demagogy. Instead of talking about Islamic principles and the like, that you would except from them, they actually promised amnesties and social justice. They borrowed all the socialist terminology from the left. They adopted slogans like “Islam belongs to the oppressed, not to the oppressors”, “Islam represents the slum-dwellers, not the palace-dwellers”, “the oppressed of the world, unite”, “We are for Islam, not for Capitalism and Feudalism”, “Islam will eliminate class differences” and alike. The height of this “anti-imperialist” demagogy was on November 4, 1979 when a group of Khomeini-supporting students occupied the US embassy in Tehran. Khomeini called this “The second revolution” and used this to crush more opponents within the regime and consolidate the ruling clique to crush the opposition that was already apparent in different movements.

By 1980 the support for Khomeini in the universities had also disappeared. Those who occupied the American embassy, with support and probably leadership of Khomeini, introduced themselves as Students “in support of Imam Khomeini’s line”. But the reality was that the majority of students in Iran were supporting the leftist and communist groups or Islamic leftist Mojahedin. The Universities more and more resembled a centre of opposition to the regime as illusions in Khomeini disappeared among the revolutionaries. For this reason the regime chose to close all universities for two years from April 1980. After reopening, no communist or person who was suspected of having communist sympathies were allowed to attend or work at the universities.

The workers’ movement was not forgotten by the regime. The fall of the Shah had not erased the problems of the workers. So from the very beginning tensions started building up. After a brief period of no strike activity many workers moved back towards a higher level of militancy. It was actually after the revolution that the workers’ councils (Shoras) really started to develop. Partly because of the vacuum of power, but also because there was an accelerating degree of class differentiation. The "national democratic" phase of the revolution had not brought fully developed capitalism, but it had brought to the fore the fully developed crisis of capitalism and magnified its contradictions. The workers could see that their problems needed independent political solutions and for that they required independent political tools. The workers’ councils were the embryo of these tools.

But as the councils were quickly growing in influence and power, they were also becoming too big a factor for the regime to ignore. Already on May Day 1979 there were workers’ demonstrations clearly standing in opposition to the regime. And in July the first workers’ leaders from the oil industry were jailed. In June organising industrial action became punishable with 2-10 years of prison. In March 1980 there was an all out ban on all strike activity. But the strikes continued.

The main attack finally came after the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in September 1980, when the regime placed military representatives in all the factories, for "recruitment" purposes. In reality this was used to physically crush the councils and their leaders.

The real “birth” of the regime, .i.e. when it completely suppressed and defeated the revolution, took place on June 20, 1981. This was a bloody counter-revolutionary assault which ended the relative freedom that had existed since the fall of the Shah. For this to happen there were daily executions of 300 to 500, banning of all the opposition newspapers and gatherings, and a very violent assault on any show of resistance. This was effectively the start of a civil war with the Mojahedin, a quasi-leftist Islamic organisation, which subsequently assassinated many heads of the regime. All the leftist groups that had opposed Khomeini (including the Fadayian Minority and other anti-regime Fadayian splits and Pro-Hoxaite Peykar, which had split from the Mojahedin, and a lot of other smaller socialist groups) fled to Kurdistan, parts of which were free from the regime’s control and its Liberated Areas were being ruled by local anti-regime parties, and joined the armed struggle against the regime for a few years before being crushed and wiped out of Iranian Kurdistan during the years of the Iran-Iraq War.

In all the above mentioned cases, the main leaders of the Tudeh and Fadayian Majority (the majority split of the mass party, Fadayian, which actually was larger than the Tudeh, but followed the Tudeh’s Moscow-dictated line on each and every matter) had a completely friendly approach towards the regime. Instead of using the attacks to win new bases of support they alienated themselves from it and split all the best social elements of the revolution.

A lot of other left groups that courageously opposed Khomeini and fought against him suffered from other problems that did not allow them to lead a mass movement of workers against the Islamic regime. We have already mentioned that the majority of the Guerrillaist Fadayian split and went over to support the Tudeh Party. However, the Fadayian Minority and other splits still adhered to a lot of guerrialist and Stalinist ideas (such as the two-stage theory that was widely shared) that prevented them from effectively leading the workers and masses. It is to be noted that the dominant ideas of these groups were very backward and pre-Marxist. To use the analogy of the Russian Revolution, the dominant Fadayian ideas were not even Menshevik but Narodnik! (Individual “terrorism”, guerrillaism, etc.)

Also failing were the then followers of the so-called United Secretariat of the Fourth International under the political leadership of Ernest Mandel. There were two groups of Trotskyists formed in Europe and the United States that initially united to form the Hezbe Kargaran Sosialist (Socialist Workers’ Party) and had a more or less correct understanding that led them to grow to a few hundred members and open offices in a few cities. But the line of defence of Khomeini as an “anti-imperialist” and the idea of uniting with the “progressive bourgeoisie” came to dominate this party as well, represented by people like Babak Zahrayi, and this led to splits where the majority wing effectively became proponents of a left version of the same Pro-Khomeini position as the Tudeh.

In this process of crushing the left groups, the regime rested firmly on different layers. One was made up of sections of the bazaaris who were incorporated into the regime and rewarded with many lucrative concessions. Another was a wing of the bazaaris who were actually supporters of the liberal National Front who led the provisional government. Lastly they rested on huge layers of the urban poor. The shanty dwellers being completely crushed and left to rot at the bottom of society for years were now being made to feel that they could become someone. This layer was the most loyal and most useful to the regime in its attempt to crush all other classes.

But even the honeymoon with the liberal bazaaris did not last long. After pushing them out of government they were attacked with the same weapons used by the Shah. By the year 1983 they too were crushed and their main leaders jailed.

The revolution was defeated by the clerical leaders leaning on different classes and layers to crush others and being the only one standing at the end. The so-called Communist leaders in the Tudeh, Fadayian Majority and anyone else who followed their line played a treacherous role in supporting the regime in every attack before they were themselves attacked and jailed in 1983.

 

 part 3

The Clergy

Khomeini returning from  exile.Khomeini returning from exile.In Iran there is a Shia Islamic tradition. This goes from the top down to the bottom of society, but Islam is not the same for the Shah, the Supreme Leader or the big capitalist as it is for the peasant or the small shop-owner. Whereas for the supreme leader and the capitalist Islam is a tool for subjugation telling the masses not to struggle for a better life in this world, for the poor it is a manual on how to live a better life here and now. These same tendencies can be found in the ranks of the clergy. Actually, the mullahs have played a big part in both revolutionary and counterrevolutionary movements in the history of Iran.

However, for the most part the clergy, like most other places in history, have played the role of holding back the masses. During the 1960's they were pushed out of the circles of power by the Shah. This forced some layers of the clergy into opposition to the regime. Up until then, the top layers of the clergy had been firm defenders of the Shah.

The clergy does not live in a vacuum disconnected from society. The Mullah is bound to his surroundings in more ways than one. Sometimes even his existence has depended on the donations that his community made to him. This means that all mullahs have not always been able to separate themselves from the surrounding community that they live in. The Shia clergy in Iran represent a part of the middle classes. They are not a homogeneous entity acting in a united manner. In a thousand ways they are connected to different parts of their class.

The main reasons why they could attract large sections of the masses in 1979 were:

  1. The lack of a genuine working class leadership and because the White Revolution had removed them from power. Thus the masses did not associate them with the Shah - the bulk of their organization, however, had staunchly defended the regime up until the 1960's.

  2. Especially the bazaaris - who had close ties to the mosques - but also the rural masses and the urban poor, found the safest and most legal gathering places inside the mosques that were not considered a political danger by the regime. In this context the clergy was the only layer that could provide the petit bourgeois masses with a national organisation.

  3. In the beginning most mullahs even went to great lengths trying to hold back the masses, but the movement wouldn't stop and the clergy was pushed further and further. Especially young Islamic students and poor rural mullahs were quickly radicalized. At this point Khomeini’s faction that had been the only parts of the clergy calling for the fall of the Shah (and who probably consisted of less than 200 mullahs) started to grow a larger base.

The Mullahs in Iran do not constitute a closed and homogeneous entity; they are nothing but a part of the Iranian petit bourgeoisie and the ruling classes, being connected to it in a thousand ways from top to bottom. Therefore, in the last analysis, they reflect the same class interests.

The lower sections among the clerics have always followed the lowest layers of the masses and become radicalized with them in every major conflict and movement. There are many stories from the revolution in 1979 about mullahs who at night studied communist papers and at day agitated with their slogans. However mystified and deformed it may have come out, the poor mullahs were nothing, but a part of the petit bourgeoisie and the rural poor. Therefore on many occasions they also expressed their voices.

The top clerics in the cities and the leaders of the big Friday prayers, on the other hand, are and have always sided with the ruling classes from the time of the Qajars to Reza Shah, Mohammad Reza Shah and of course now. At every movement and in every revolution they have sided with the representatives of privilege and used all their powers and influences to stop the movement. If they have ever opposed the ruling elite, as Khomeini did in the early sixties, this has only been a part of their internal conflict within the ruling elite. It had nothing to do with changing the fundamental pillars of society.

If one does not take note of the conflicting interests within the clergy and the middle classes it is very hard to understand the revolution in 1979. The aspirations of the poor masses have nothing in common with the greedy needs of the top layers of the clergy.

In 1979 the middle class did not have any political organization or focal point of expression. The Tudeh and other workers’ organizations, being mostly parties of industrial workers and urban intellectuals, had very weak links with the countryside and the poor areas of Tehran. So when the oppressed masses started moving, the most natural gathering places were in the mosques. The mosques where the first place the rural masses went to organize and gather.

But these is the first steps of the revolution where class differentiation had not revealed itself. Instead of promoting an independent workers’ movement and preparing the workers and poor for the betrayal of Khomeini, the Tudeh gave Khomeini its wholehearted support. In this way they sowed illusions and practically disarmed not only the workers, but also the poor and oppressed masses in the face of the rising counter-revolution.

Khomeini then used the authority bestowed upon him to slowly undermine the workers’ movement, and defeat the revolution. Instead of Shoras (workers’ committees) he sneaked in the old order through the back door by means of “Islamic Shoras” and reintroduced one man management under the Islamic guise known as the Maktabi. Later when his position had become stronger he introduced militarisation of the factories and severe attacks on wages and working conditions.

The immediate objective of Khomeini was to save capitalism, and with this end in mind he had to take over many private firms, not because he wanted to, but because he had no other choice. The owners had fled and the workers were putting on massive pressure. In fact, even before the end of the 1980's privatization plans were being laid down (and if this hasn't happened yet it is not because there was no desire for it within at the regime).

The mullahs by calling themselves revolutionaries would not change anything. In fact it was not a new thing for the counter-revolution to dress itself up as revolutionaries. But with no organized opposition they could soon consolidate their forces and show their real face. The revolution was then drowned in a river of blood. Workers’ organizations were prohibited and no opposition was tolerated.

The War - “a gift from heavens”

Iranian forces capture Khorramshahr in 1982. Photo by sajed.ir.Iranian forces capture Khorramshahr in 1982. Photo by sajed.ir.The Iran-Iraq war was an important factor in defeating the revolution. The war started by Iraq attacking Iran - officially because of a land dispute. That might have been one of the objectives, but it wasn't the reason they had to. In fact, what forced Iraq to attack was fear of the revolutionary waves spilling over its borders. Especially the suppressed Kurds and Shia minority in Iraq were being affected and beginning to move. This left no choice for Saddam (who was also pressured by US imperialism) but to attack. The important thing to remember is that the attack was not against Iran as a nation, or even the Clergy. The attack was aimed at stopping the movement of the masses. It was an attack against the revolution.

This in fact was a helping hand to the mullahs. The regime in Iran used the war to divert attention towards their “foreign enemies”. With this excuse they stressed the need to calm things down and demanded order while at the same time consolidating their armed forces. Needless to say that the Tudeh leaders again stabbed the revolution in the back and gave their full support to the regime sending the party’s forces to the front without a clear and independent class stance.

Here again we see how the clerics and US imperialism shared the same interests. First of all, both America and the Soviet Union sold arms to both parties in an effort to prolong the war, secondly the Iranian regime itself contributed greatly to its unnecessary prolongation. After 1982 Iran had won all the land that it had lost, but it turned the war into an offensive and continued it until 1988, without winning an inch of land. In fact what both countries were fighting was not each other, but the revolution.

Massacre of Iranian  civilians. Photo by sajed.ir.Massacre of Iranian civilians. Photo by sajed.ir.But even after slaughtering up to half a million people, the people’s movement began to rise again just after the war. What had become of all the promises of the revolution? Why did we have to be in a war for such a long time? But this time the regime had built its forces and bases throughout the country and, without any significant divisions within its top layers, it could respond resolutely and crush a movement that had been worn out and disillusioned by the mistakes of its leaders. Therefore an Islamic court was established for all leftist and opposition leaders. Within a period of a few days this court sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death and killed them minutes after their 10-minute trials. These killings of thousands of Revolutionaries, Communists and Marxists in the summer of 1988 stand as one of the most abhorrent anti-communist massacres of the 20th century. The new upsurge was drowned before it could reach the surface. In the final act the counter-revolution had literally beheaded the revolution.

Development of economy and classes under the Islamic republic

The 1980s in Iran was a period marked by war and economic disintegration. Many of the old industrial complexes were destroyed or simply went bankrupt because of mismanagement. At the same time the war with Iraq disrupted all economic activities.

Many large companies were expropriated and nationalized or centralized in the Bonyads (Islamic foundations controlled by unelected mullahs). The huge bureaucratic apparatus inside the state and the Bonyads, developing due to the complete lack of democratic control or supervision, resulted in the deterioration of many of these companies. The narrow and short-sighted mentality of the backward petit bourgeois meant that many of the companies under the Bonyads were greatly mismanaged in the hands of the brothers, cousins and friends of the clergy and top bazaaris. Facing strike waves and economic recession it was much easier just to sell the machinery in the company and make a large one-off profit.

Counteracting all of these negative factors was the total control over the law and the state apparatus which created enormous advantages for these companies in competition with others that had been left outside the regime. This again accelerated inefficiency and a fall in investments. In general, the large manufacturing companies grew after the revolution, but in a one sided and inorganic way. The amount of workers employed in large manufacturing enterprises doubled from 271,000 to 509,000 between 1976 and 1986. Again this was not followed by an equal rise in investments. On the other hand there was a collapse in the development of medium sized manufacturing companies and an explosion in small manufacturing companies.

The working class in the eighties decreased as a percentage of the active population. Going from 40.2 percent of the active population in 1976, it fell to 24.6 percent. Although this tendency was reversed later, by 1996 it still only amounted to 31.1 percent of the population. But the decrease of the working class in percentage terms did not make it less powerful, as the remaining workers were employed in larger companies who in many cases have a monopoly in their field. At the same time, a huge army of unemployed rose all over the country. These layers moved to the cities in search of jobs, but mostly they were caught in the growing informal economy of Iran. Whereas in 1950 30 percent and in 1979 50 percent of the population lived in the cities, by 2008 80 percent of the population was living in large cities. This includes a significant layer that is caught outside the economy, constituting marginalized communities.

The rural areas no longer offered sustainable life for the population. Even if one is lucky enough to own a piece of land in Iran, more than 75 percent of land owners own less than the 7 hectares estimated to be a minimum to sustain a rural family. Therefore many peasants either have a second job in the cities or they move to the city and leave their land behind.

In the early nineties when oil prices began to raise the tendency of deterioration of industry was halted. The working class grew and investments rose, but the easy money in the oil industry drew all forces to it. In this way even the upswing was shown to be uneven and unsustainable. Other industries that grew, for example housing, only did so in an inflated and short term manner as a bubble.

In the new millennium everything indicates that the concentration of workers and industry has increased, driven by the world economic upswing. But at the same time, rising unemployment levels and migration to the urban areas also reveal the falling apart of the rest of society and possibly even the further relative decrease of the working class.

This does not necessarily indicate a weaker working class. Its increased concentration and extreme monopolisation of Iran have created potentially powerful groups of workers. For example the highway between Tehran and Karaj, the Vyborg of Iran, is packed with industrial plants employing hundreds of thousands, maybe even more than a million industrial workers. The Iran Khodro plant is virtually a small city with more than 25,000 workers.

This working class concentration, if mobilized, has enormous potential. At the same time the rest of the Iranian masses, as they partially were in 1979, are not at a far distance, neither geographically nor culturally. As opposed to 50 percent during the late Shah years, today 80 percent of the 75 million Iranians live in the cities. This compares to a working class of only 3 to 5 percent in Russia at the time of the Revolution in 1917! Iranian conditions in 2010 are much more favourable for taking power by the working class compared to Russia at the time of October revolution.

Huddled in their millions, the newly arrived peasants and rural people, now working in the informal sector, are forced to assume many of the traditions and traits of the working class. So even if the Iranian working class has not grown at the same speed as the rest of society, their potential power and authority has grown immensely.

Nineties

The 1990's were a decade that was heavily affected by the huge defeat of the revolution and then the collapse of the Soviet Union which in turn lead to an international demoralisation of the left. But in Iran, it was also the decade that prepared new explosions. The economic situation of the country was in just as bad a shape as before the revolution. From 1993 to 2001 average inflation was above 23% per annum and unemployment was hovering at about 16% (officially!). The reasons that had given rise to the revolution were still as valid as before. At bottom, the revolution was a question of bread and that question had not been solved. The only change was in the faces and head-wear of the oppressors.

Ayatollah Khamenei. Photo by  sajed.ir.Ayatollah Khamenei. Photo by sajed.ir.The Islamic Republic represented the old order but it brought with it new people. Most of the Shah’s men had fled and most companies had been nationalized of course not in a democratic manner under workers’ control and producing for the benefit of society. At the head of the nationalized companies were placed the clerics and their friends from the bazaar. And along with them they brought the bureaucratic methods of the marketplace, where the aim is not production but quick money and shady hustling. This had very severe implications for all industry and production.

The bureaucracy that grew in the Islamic republic would make any Stalinist regime look like an angelic corps. This development had disastrous effects on the economy, as billions of dollars disappeared from the state budget and hundreds of companies went bankrupt because of gross mismanagement. Many times a new manager taking over a factory would just sell all the machines to a foreign company at low prices getting the real sum for himself under the table. By these methods of grotesque mismanagement, big parts of Iranian industry were destroyed leaving thousands unemployed and society deteriorating. This meant that the oil industry became by far the biggest industry in Iran, not through modernization and investments, but through more exploitation of the workers and the oil fields. This industry fitted well with the buy-cheap-sell-expensive bazaari mentality of the clergy and their allies. In fact Iran never built the capacity to refine petrol for internal use. Oil is only sold raw and unprocessed - it is then exchanged for refined fuel.

Much of the tendency for industry and production to fall apart was counteracted through the enormous construction bubble in the late nineties, but as the word bubble might suggest, this was only temporary. The outcome was that the millions of people migrating to the cities could do nothing but join the army of unemployed, cab-drivers, small shop owners and service personnel who live off the informal economy of Iran and survive on an almost day to day basis.

Rafsanjani. Photo by Mesgary.Rafsanjani. Photo by Mesgary.Throughout the nineties there was also a development within the regime. Different factions started to emerge, representing different interests within the regime. One such faction had accumulated large amounts capital and slowly moved towards privatizations to gain complete control over the companies they were heading and to create possibilities to invest the money they had channelled out of the state and accumulated for themselves. This faction had Rafsanjani and many Liberals of the "Reformist" movement as their main leaders. And naturally they also had closer relations with the World Bank and the IMF and therefore also the US.

On the other side there was a conservative faction consisting of the Revolutionary Guards, who are now the largest business conglomerate in Iran, and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Revolutionary Guards are in fact one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, economic entities in the Middle East controlling hundreds of billions of dollars. Most noticeable is their control over the main Bonyads (semi-public foundations who enjoy all the perks of state ownership, but who are not controlled by any state institution) that own most of Iranian industry. The latter factions had their base inside the regime and in that way were in opposition to some privatizations, but still took part in most of the privatization schemes.

The fight between these factions is nothing, but a fight about who can get the biggest slice of the famous pie. As the economic situation deteriorated the struggle between these elements also took a more serious character, but basically they still represent the same regime.

 

 

 

part 4

The revival of the workers’ movement

In the Iranian workers’ movement in the nineties the situation was one of complete despair. All organisations were crushed and existed in a state of complete disintegration. This created a situation where you could find tendencies of syndicalism and anarchism within the most advanced layers ‑ ideas that belong to the early days of the workers’ movement and that have long been proven to be a dead end.

In spite of this, in one way or another, the worker has to eat and to live. And if he has to organize and fight in order to eat, then that is how it will be. Although there are not yet any major trade unions or workers’ parties in Iran, the working class has come a long way. The contradictions that are magnified in a decaying capitalist society, combined with the fact that there is no dead weight of a reactionary labour bureaucracy, has served to accelerate the formation and development of embryonic workers’ organisations through the numerous impressive struggles among all layers of the working class.

We have seen the revival of the workers’ movement in Iran that had previously been bloodily suppressed, together with all other forms of organisation, in the early 1980s. The beginning of this trend could be seen with the strike of the oil workers ‑ that vital part of the Iranian working class ‑ back in 1997. This was a strike for demands of higher wages and collective bargaining agreements. That strike put an end to nearly two decades of confusion and heralded a new era of working class struggles.

In the years since then, workers’ actions have rapidly grown with numerous strikes and protests every year, the chief among these being the struggles for a union of the Tehran Vahed Bus workers, and other disputes such as at Iran Khodro Dizel, Alborz Tyre, of theTeachers and Haft Tapeh Sugarcane workers and more general attempts to form a union. There were even attempts to organise workers’ councils that were always met with the harshest response.

One of the examples of the anti-worker crimes of the Islamic Republic was in 2003 when workers at the Khatoon Abad mines in Shahre Babak organised a large gathering to fight for employment and which demands about job security. This gathering was broken up by the police forces and a number of workers were injured and arrested. Subsequently a large demonstration of people at Shahre Babak was organised, which led to raids from the ground and air that killed a number of workers.

After all this, however, the bulk of the working class in Iran remains extremely disorganised. This is currently the greatest weakness of the workers. The working class, because of their cohesive character, their decisiveness in action and their relations to the means of production, have an enormous potential, but as Karl Marx said, without organisation the working class is merely raw material for exploitation. Attempts to form a union still involve only a very small part of the Iranian workers. This state of isolation, combined with the general decay in society leads to a workers’ movement that can develop very quickly, but also in an uneven manner with the greatest advances together with huge gaps and shortcomings. In this process, the development of a narrow small circle mentality has developed within some leaders and activists in the movement. This sometimes has led to situations where these “vanguard workers” have failed to lead the workers in carrying out their burning tasks, .i.e. linking up the struggle for demands for improvements in the immediate conditions of the workers to the more general struggle against the Islamic regime and for a Socialist society.

1999: First Shots of the Iranian Revolution

The students and the youth, as many times before in non-revolutionary periods, have been the most radical layer of society, showing the true tensions brewing within the consciousness of the masses. The movements of youth usually are a reflection of deeper processes going on in society. They placed themselves at the forefront of every significant movement throughout the nineties. And they are bound to play a crucial role again. They have borne the brunt of some of the worst forms of oppression under the Islamic Republic with its infamous and stifling regulations that have controlled and policed every single aspect of their lives for the last 30 years. What has had similar effects has been the intense sexual discrimination and oppression against women. They have been treated as second class citizens under Islamic rule and it is thus no surprise that they currently form one of the most courageous and crucial sections of the movement.

Student protests 1999Student protests 1999The clergy may have thought that by beheading the revolution with the mass executions in 1988. Instead all that they achieved was the creation a new army of revolutionaries. The children of those who were executed and defeated grew up in Iran during the nineties with a hatred for the regime and with a deep-seated desire for revenge brewing inside them. That generation became the main pillar within the youth movements that took erupted at the end of the nineties.

This movement that had started brewing in the bowels of society for some time found an opportunity to come to the surface around the presidential campaign of Mohammad Khatami in the late nineties. The lack of a mass alternative forced the students and youth gathered around this so called reformist to air their anger towards the regime. But Khatami was himself a part of the ruling establishment. He could not even introduce small improvements in the democratic rights of the people. At the beginning of his presidency the mass movement that had been set in motion during his campaign was calm. They were giving him time to prove himself. But in 1999 the pressure became too big. Apart from the loosening of the laws concerning head-wear requirements, nothing had fundamentally changed. Oppression and impoverishment continued and the corruption of the regime was as obvious as ever. Big demonstrations took place, especially of the youth, but also drawing to itself many middle class people who had once been the social base of the regime.

Things came to head on July 8, 1999 (18 Tir 1378 in the Iranian Calendar) when tens of thousands of students took part in massive demonstrations after a left-leaning Khatamite newspaper had been closed down. Security forces stormed a dormitory at Tehran University, beating students and pushing them out of windows. The movement continued and a few days later... “In scenes eerily reminiscent of Iran's revolution two decades ago, the police fired tear gas Tuesday at thousands of demonstrators and passers-by and fired pistols and submachine guns in the air as street battles raged through huge swathes of the capital.” (New York Times, July 13 1999)

As we wrote at the time, “The eruption of the students, that most sensitive barometer of the tensions building up in society, are a warning of the explosion to come. They are the first shots in the Iranian revolution”. (The First Shots of the Iranian Revolution, by Alan Woods, July 17 1999).

The movement that for the first time shook the mullahs’ regime was heavily repressed. It was especially the cowardice of Khatami that disarmed the movement because it led to key sections of the movement hesitating. But that defeat played a role, in that through this the "Reformists" and even the notion of reform lost a lot of authority. The main problem was that there were no alternative mass organisations to take the masses further. Although all the objective factors for a revolution were maturing, the subjective one, the revolutionary party was lacking.

Ahmadinejad ‑ rise of reaction

So as the movement was going down, the most reactionary faction of the regime was getting ready to settle into the presidential chair. The presidential elections of 2005 saw a participation of 48% of Iran's 47 million eligible voters in the second round, a decline from the 63% turnout reported in the first round of balloting a week earlier. In comparison, in 1997 80% of those eligible to vote did so. The final straw, that completely broke the mood of the masses, was the silence of the reformists, when all their candidates had been denied the possibility of running for the presidency beforehand. In fact, demoralisation was at such a level that no one reacted although everyone in Iran was aware of the fact that Ahmadinejad had largely won by rigging the elections, even then.

The regime had lost much of its support, but there was no one capable of putting up resistance to it in a period of appraisal and reassessment of the aims and methods of the movement.

Ahmadinejad also tried to appeal to the impoverished masses of Iran, specially the urban poor and sections of the rural middle classes, promising to end “discrimination”, to fight against corruption and “privileges” and to be more consistent against “world arrogance” (.i.e. imperialism). This might have initially helped him to gain some support (especially against the reformist-backed candidate, Rafsanjani, who is a symbol of corruption and of the “billionaire mullahs”) but this didn’t last long as the poor economic conditions faced by the regime did not allow him to give many long-lasting concessions.

During his presidency Ahmadinejad continued to lose support. In June 2007 the first cracks in his base of support started surfacing. A programme of fuel rationing caused widespread anger and many fuel stations were actually burned down.

Six months later there was an even greater shock, one that prepared much of the grounds for today's mass movement. During the winter of 2007 the extreme contradictions within Iranian society were brought to the surface, shaking every corner of the country. The Middle East Economic Survey writes, "In January 2008, with an unprecedented cold spell in northern Iran, gas shortage became the hottest political and economic issue. Iran, with the second largest gas reserves in the world, was short of gas even for its domestic sector. The supply to the Northern Provinces was either interrupted or experienced low pressure. Over 40mn people endured temperatures between -4° to -30° centigrade. Turkmenistan, which supplies around 9bn bcm/y, also cut its gas exports because of payment delays and price disputes."

The gas crisis, that some say cost many lives, was a huge scandal. It brought to the fore all the inefficiency and rottenness of the corrupt bureaucratic management of society and the economy. Spontaneous demonstrations started in front of government buildings and gas companies. If there had been even a small organisation of a few hundred disciplined revolutionaries inside Iran at that point, this crisis could have been the starting point of a revolutionary crisis. This was the final straw for many of the previous supporters of Ahmadinejad. In every taxi and every shop you could hear people cursing the regime, totally ignoring the fact that they could end in prison or even worse for doing so. But again the lack of a vehicle prevented the movement from developing further.

Ahmadinejad and US imperialism

“Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” Lord Palmerston (English Statesman, 1784-1865) once said.

The rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the attacks by US imperialism on the IRI have led many to believe that this man is in firm opposition to US imperialism. This in turn has led the same people to think that Ahmadinejad is therefore on the same side of the oppressed masses who suffer every day under American intervention around the world. But reality is quite different.

First of all, the regime has used the hated image of American imperialism and Israeli Zionism as the main enemies outside the country in order to distract attention away from the problems at home. The hypocritical nature of the regime is perhaps best illustrated by the complete passivity of the Lebanese Hezbollah (controlled by the Islamic Republic) during the massacre of the Palestinian people of Gaza. Opening a front in the north of Israel could have seriously damaged and perhaps weakened the Israeli offensive, but Hezbollah was silent, firing only a single rocket "by accident".

Apart from the demagogy, the relationship between the US and Iran is a complicated one. Sections of the regime, especially those around Rafsanjani, are very keen on establishing relations with America and also getting closer to the IMF and the World Bank. This threatens the position of other factions within the regime (like the people around Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards) who have their main allies at home. But this does not mean that the Ahmadinejad is an all out enemy of the US. In fact Iran has been very loyal to imperialism. Without the cooperation of some sections of the regime, (especially the Revolutionary Guards who control many terrorist groups) the humiliating developments in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been a hundred times more severe for the Americans. The actions and manoeuvres of both the Iranian regime and US imperialism are, in the final analysis, decided by their desire to gain, consolidate or defend a stronger position within the world market. Bearing this in mind, it is very natural that in some moments they can clash and in others they can cooperate.

For now it seems that the Americans are trying to reach a deal in order to allow Iran to use its considerable influence in Iraq to stabilise the country and thereby allow for an easy withdrawal of the Americans. The Iranians are squeezing them, but they will eventually sign an agreement. This could ease relationships or even bring the rulers of the two countries closer to each other for a while, but beyond that point the development of the relationship is difficult to predict. The enormous tensions that have been building up during the last decade have been further sharpened by the world economic crisis and the Iranian mass movement. There is not a single stable regime left in the Middle East.

On the question of a war on Iran there are many domestic and international factors to take into consideration and the development of these factors is quite unpredictable (for example the positions of Russia, China, Israel, Egypt, Pakistan and Syria combined with the movements of the masses in these countries, all have an influence on how things will develop). A military attack by Israel on Iran is not completely ruled out. The Israeli ruling class cannot allow another nuclear power to emerge within the region. Israeli imperialism is a junior partner of US imperialism in the region but it also has its own interests, and its policies are not always determined by what is best for US imperialism. An attack would provoke huge turmoil and mass movements across the whole of the Middle East. That would not be US imperialism’s preferred option, but Israeli imperialism may have its own ideas. What is clear is that nothing in the Middle East can remain as before ‑ the house of cards is fragile and a revolution in Iran would definitely blow it down.

What is evident is that despite all the internal disputes within the capitalist classes, they will always unite against the movement of the masses. This was well illustrated by the complete silence of the Obama administration and other "world leaders" during the huge attacks on the mass movement in Iran in June 2009 and also by the fact that the US has now effectively accepted Ahmadinejad as the legitimate president of Iran.

The roots to the present situation

The extreme rottenness and incompetence of the clerical bureaucracy further magnifies all the downward trends of the capitalist system. On the other hand, Iranian society hardly benefited from the global upswing of the past decade.

In fact for the last couple of years there has been a process of accelerating decline in the fortunes of the top echelons of society. The need to increase accumulation by the most powerful layers, the economic crisis and economic collapse on the horizon, the social tremors that indicate the beginning of the end for the regime, the huge and inefficient bureaucracy, and all these factors impacting on each other, fuels this process of decline. Especially the understanding by many elements at the top that the days of this regime are numbered, urges them to think more in the short-term and to forget about providing for their social base. A lot of these people are packing their bags and they are not leaving the silverware to the staff.

At the bottom end of society another type of decline is taking place – that of the size of people’s stomachs. Officially the unemployment rate in Iran is 12.5 percent, although most experts say that the real number exceeds 30 percent. And even with a job most Iranian struggle to make it from day to day. Inflation is rising rapidly, and according to The Economist it currently stands at over 30%.

With the world economic crisis hitting hard and the price of oil falling, Iran’s GDP growth has gone from 6% to 0.5 % annually. For some years Ahmadinejad’s government was able to keep the main wheels running because of the high oil prices. He has been able to channel funds to a relatively small circle around the regime, providing them with better opportunities and cheaper goods. But those times are over, the price of oil has collapsed as a result of the world recession and the future is probably bringing the deadly mix of recession and accelerating inflation - stagflation. There will no longer be the funds to even provide for this small circle.

Almost 60 percent of the Iranian population is under the age of 30. A large number of these have a university degree. In 2008 alone over 3.5 million students enrolled in the universities. But for a majority of these young people the final exam is just the final step before unemployment. Without any brighter future in sight the youth has been left to rot.

According to Mr. Mohammad Ali Zam, the head of Teheran's cultural and artistic affairs, who made a report on drug abuse and prostitution in 1999: "Drug addiction is the rage among schoolchildren, prostitution has increased 635% among high school students and the (growth) rate of suicide in the country has exceeded the record by 109%." The BBC World adds that, "the average age of prostitutes has dropped from 27 to 20 years over the past few years, with a growing but unspecified number of women involved." Today Iran has one of the highest rates of prostitution and drug abusers as a percentage of the population in the world. It is estimated that more that 4.000.000 people are addicted to opiates alone.

The advanced decomposition of society is breaking down all human relations. Unemployment, poverty, prostitution, violence, child abuse and depression are normal elements in the everyday life of every single Iranian. These factors are the true reasons behind the events that erupted in June 2009. And the brutal measures that the government has used to stop these events from taking place (incarceration of all opposition forces, a huge network of informers, etc.), only serve to prepare more explosions on a larger scale.

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