The historical origins of the Iranian Revolution and the tasks of the Revolutionary Marxists – Part Five

Conditions had been maturing for revolution in Iran before the 2009 elections. All the mass movement required was a channel through which to express itself. As there is no mass independent organisation of the workers, the movement found a crack within the regime and opened it wide. This was the movement against electoral fraud. But Mousavi does not represent the movement. On the contrary, he tries to hold it back. What is required is a genuine organisation of the working class and youth. The first step towards that is to gather together the most advanced layers among the workers and youth and weld them into a Marxist current within the movement.

Mirhossein Mousavi and the elections in 2009

The main problem that the masses of Iran have to solve is the lack of an organisation with a clear leadership for the expression of their needs and demands; this is, they lack of a vehicle for them to change society. But even with the lack of such a vehicle that can channel their revolutionary energy, the masses had to move at some point. The pressure on every single aspect of everyday life was unbearable in the long run. This is the real cause behind the sudden popularity of Mirhossein Mousavi.

Mirhossein Mousavi is not and has not, at least in his active political life, been a man of the people. In fact, his most famous merit is a good indicator of this. He was a prime minister of the Islamic Republic from the 1981 to 1989. This is probably the bloodiest decade in the four thousand year old history of Iran! In the beginning of the decade thousands of people were killed and jailed by the regime as "counter-revolutionaries". Then the war with Iraq started and the regime prolonged it to last eight years costing the lives of hundreds of thousands. And finally at the end of the decade, in July and August 1988, the regime executed thousands of leftists and opposition prison inmates. Mousavi’s hands is not less bloody than those of his companions or "enemies" in the top echelons of the regime.

No, the "secret" of the reformists is to be found in the lack of any alternative. They do not represent any break with the prevailing system - on the contrary they always have defended, and still keep defending it. In Iran no candidate for president of parliament is allowed to stand unless they are completely loyal to the system.

Of course the reformists have some differences with the hardliners. For example, in the Khatami era the atmosphere was a bit more open and there was some degree of "freedom of speech". But freedom of speech is only a tool for expression and when people started expressing their needs and desires they were met by the old methods of suppression and violence.

However, leading up to the present elections in Iran there were several things that indicated that some things were going to change.

Firstly, the American forces in Iraq were being forced to withdraw and the US administration required the collaboration of Iran and Syria to maintain stability in Iraq. This meant several things: 1) The regime was pressured to change the president who had clearly not left many doors open for a cooperation with the US. 2) The new presidency would have to create somewhat of an open atmosphere for the Americans to justify such cooperation internally. 3) This would probably mean a power shift to the Reformist faction in Iran and a weakening of the hardliners, especially of the Revolutionary Guards who play a big role in Iraqi politics. In the end this weakening was probably the main reason for the electoral coup of June 2009.

Secondly, as explained earlier, the social base of Ahmadinejad was becoming exhausted. The outbursts during the fuel crisis and the gas crisis had been like the bubbles before water reaches boiling point. For the masses Ahmadinejad was the unmasked face of the regime. For them these elections were becoming more and more a focal point - a way to express opposition to this face in full force.

The regime seeing this, actually took steps to prevent too massive a mobilisation. They did not trust Khatami - the most famous man in Iran - to control such a movement. Khatami had used all his personal authority to stop the movement during his presidency. This time the regime feared that he would fail. According to Newsweek, the hardliners decided to ally themselves with Mousavi (a right-winger within the reformist camp), separating him out from within the reformists, thus splitting the reformist vote and forcing Khatami to back down. Mousavi was seen as belonging to the right wing of the reformists and the one least inclined to encourage mobilisations. He demonstrated his loyalty to the regime by toning down his entire campaign for all but the last few weeks. Newsweek quotes another reformist, Abbas Abdi, who provides a fitting description, a few days before the elections: "A modern candidate actively goes after the popular vote, but Mr. Mousavi is waiting for the presidency on a silver plate." In the end events have revealed the impotence of bureaucratic manoeuvres once the conditions for a mass movement have reached a critical stage.

Thirdly, the elections were seen by the liberal faction as a chance to regain many of the powers lost during the Ahmadinejad presidency. They were looking forward to consolidating a larger base and for that they needed at least some mobilisations. This is also one of the reasons why they have taken in many young people and students to organise and mobilise in the universities. Of course they did everything possible to avoid the workers being involved, but what they had probably miscalculated was the experience and militancy of the student movement, that quickly used this opportunity to put mass pressure on to sections of the reformist leadership.

So, as we can see, although formally the presidency was not the most powerful tool in the hands of neither the factions within the regime nor the masses, it had become a focal point for all layers in society. For the masses it was seen as a chance to gather, mobilise and vent their frustrations and anger. The problem of organisation was overcome partially by a face - the face of Mirhossein Mousavi became a rallying point. Also the little opportunity of organisation there was, was in the reformist movement, primarily in the Participation Front and Campaign organisations of the reformist candidates. There were no other alternatives. If there had been, these would quickly have been pushed into a leading position.

So we must emphasise that the reasons and directions of this mass movement have nothing to do with Mirhossein Mousavi or his policies. His campaign was seen as a way of showing opposition to the regime as a whole.

In fact, after weeks of mobilisation what became clear was exactly the lack of trust in Mousavi and the reformist leaders. At every crucial point the masses chose not to follow Mousavi’s advice. At first he said that the people should stay home. But no one did. Then he told the people to go to the mosques and not the streets. What did the masses do? They went to the mosques and then out on the streets. There are many examples, but what is clear is that Mousavi does not have any significant authority over the movement compared to the scope of the movement. In fact at some point the colour green and the picture of a martyred young girl (Neda Aghasoltan) became more "leading" elements than the words and deeds of Mr. Mousavi.

What little authority he has is mainly due to the fact that he has been pushed to move much more radically than he ever wanted to partially to keep trying to "tame" the movement, and partially through the little paths his own organisations had opened up for the rank and file to participate in leading events.

But there is no possibility that he will ever move decisively. Mousavi’s social base and his lifelong loyalty have always been and will continue to be to the ruling clique and the Iranian capitalists. At the moment he has merely changed some of his hardliner friends for some liberals.

Eruption: Revolution begins

"How sweet is mortal Sovranty!"--think some:
Others -"How blest the Paradise to come!"
Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!
(from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam)

“The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events. In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business - kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime. Whether this is good or bad we leave to the judgement of moralists. We ourselves will take the facts as they are given by the objective course of development. The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.” (History of the Russian Revolution, Volume One, Preface)

“If we can’t reduce the economic polarization and the inequalities between rich and the poor and consequently people become disappointed with Islam nothing can prevent the resulting explosion; and we will all be destroyed” (Ayatollah Khomeini, Speaking in 1983).

"The most important thing now is, that the people have discovered, that they can change their lives if they want to" - 20 year old Iranian student (June 14 2009)

When Ahmadinejad and the hardliner (the conservative clergy and the revolutionary guards) wing in the Iranian regime rigged the Iranian elections they did not expect this development. In fact they had done it once before, though on a much smaller scale, when Ahmadinejad had "won" his first presidential campaign. But the Iranian people could not endure any more of misery and poverty. They had nothing to lose and they used Mousavi as their rallying point. The millions coming out in the early days did not even expect anything to begin with.

But the immenseness of the movement shook them out of their usual ways of thought. At every turn they gained more confidence in their own powers. In those days the Iranian masses showed enormous potential – and without a lead, without any means of communication. They understood that the only way forward was through struggle. They took their lives in their own hands and overcame many obstacles. The enormity of the movement multiplied a thousand times all the tensions and contradictions brewing inside the ruling clique. Cracks started to appear in every corner of the system. Even within the Revolutionary Guards you could see episodes where soldiers were showing sympathy with the masses. Everything that had seemed rock solid was shaking like a tower of jelly in those days in Iran.

But even a magnificent movement like that has its weaknesses. Firstly, there was no organisation to embrace all the facets of the struggle, to concentrate them in a single point of attack and to plan the further steps against the regime. Secondly, the working class did not enter the movement as a class. Although workers did participate in the demonstrations, especially in the beginning, they did not follow up with strike action. If the workers had struck the regime would have crumbled immediately. But without this action all levers and resources were still available to the regime. Despite the greatest advantage of the Iranian working class .i.e. its revolutionary traditions best epitomized in the experience of worker’s council (Shoras) it was its greatest weakness, its lack of organisation, which caused this. What small organisation that exists (representing a very minimal part of the class) has not been of much use for their leaders have failed to react adequately to the movement. A correct policy for working class activists would have been to participate fully in the movement linking up the workers’ demands with the general democratic demands of the movement and offer a clear leadership to it.

Despite all its weaknesses the movement succeeded in dealing a deadly blow to the regime. It has lost all authority and justification in the eyes of the masses. It is now acting as a deadly wounded animal. That is also why it has clamped down so violently. An animal is perhaps most dangerous when it is wounded and cornered. But its energy and resources are also limited. The regime cannot sustain a high level of oppression indefinitely. It is forced to constantly switch between the stick and the carrot of course, with more of the stick for the people and most of the carrots for its usual allies, the other factions at the top and the imperialist powers. But the divisions are devouring the Islamic Republic from within. Each time an alliance is restored new splits occur. A vacuum of power has been opening up and although it has temporarily been filled again it is most likely to resurface. All forces in society will be dragged into a struggle to fill this vacuum.

The most far sighted elements within the regime have seen this and have clearly distanced themselves from the hardliners. This is the reason behind the actions of Rafsanjani and other liberals. There is no art in putting your money on a sure bet. They know the end is near so they are trying to save what they can.

One of the great features of this movement has been its lack of fear and its tirelessness. The mass of people, although many have temporarily gone home, have not given up and only regard the periodic short "calms" as a small recess before further eruptions will take place. But in its present form the movement will not be able to take further steps. It needs new inputs of energy. If the working class begins to move, it would be the decisive impulse. The Iranian working class is the only force that can destroy the present regime, and create a stable replacement. Once the workers put themselves at the head of the revolutionary movement, as a class, the days of the regime will be numbered and the possibilities for a future Socialist Iran will be within reach.

Coming developments, perspectives and tasks

The ruling classes are always ready to put the "blame" of revolutions on the shoulders of agitators individuals with the ability to hypnotise millions of people. The present Iranian movement has been largely spontaneous and it is the result of the deep contradictions of Iranian society, not the work of “communist agitators”.

This, in the clearest way demonstrates that the true blame for the revolution can only be put on the ruling classes and their mode of existence! There are, of course, plenty of agitators and activists that have played an important role in the movement. But on another plane the lack of an organised leadership with a clear programme is a decisive feature that has dictated events and will continue to do so. It is an issue that the movement will face at every turn and for which a solution must be found.

At some point, for the movement to develop, there is a need for a vehicle, an organisation for the masses to act through. But who will form such a vehicle? On the surface this movement has been everything but organized, but that is not the whole story. In fact an enormous role was played in the movement by the youth, especially university students and school students who tirelessly mobilised for days without sleep.

In the absence of a suitable vehicle for their demands, the bulk of students joined the reformist presidential Campaign organisations and turned them into mass organisations of the youth. Imagine “campaigns” that act like mass organisations with tens of thousands of members, discussing politics on a regular basis and electing officials from bottom to top! In fact these organizations included many revolutionaries who chose to work within them. In general, the vision of the youth organised in these formations was much more progressive and their loyalty to the reformist leaders far less than one would imagine. When Mousavi and the rest were ready to accept the result, these people kept organizing. Mousavi was always lagging behind the movement but was forced to appear to be radical for fear of completely losing control over it. If he had upset this layer too much they could have broken away with a complete national organisational infrastructure and fully independent from the state. Mousavi had to follow this layer hoping he would be able to derail it.

This layer of young people has played a great role, but they also have great weaknesses. At present they are completely separated from the working class. If this layer and this movement want to advance further they have to link up with the working class. On the other hand if they succeeded in connecting with the workers huge leaps forward could be made.

If the youth were to take up the demands of the workers such as a living wage, a 35-hour working week, decent unemployment benefits, the right to organise and, most importantly, the expropriation of factories under democratic worker’s control, they would get an echo they have never dreamed of. In fact it is not a new thing for advanced youth to ally themselves with the workers. The Tudeh party initially had a majority of intellectual, student and youth members. It was only when they linked up these forces with the workers, through a few of the old communist party leaders, that they started to grow rapidly.

On their own the students would soon fall into some kind of pessimistic state of surrender either drifting to the right or to the left. But if they succeed in developing a consistent understanding of the key role of the working class, they can contribute with many things, especially an organisation, experience and a high level of education although they too would have to educate themselves in the workers’ traditions and methods. The workers must also use the resources of this layer to expand and consolidate their own organisation. There should be an understanding that it is only the might of the Iranian working class, the creator of all production in society, that can be a decisive force in changing Iran.

Another layer that could at some point play a role, although a very weak one, are the remnants of the old guard of the 1979 revolution, that is thousands of Marxists, Socialists and Communists who played a leading role in the previous revolution. Although the traditional workers’ and left organisations were destroyed and have lost almost all authority, they may not have outplayed their role yet. Under the surface, these left organisations are not completely dead. The same Communists who used to gather in their cells, circles and regional committees in their youth still gather, only now they bring with them their spouses and children. Their social relationships were the only things that survived the blows of the counterrevolution. And although they do not share one common and fixed ideological focal point, they still share the same aspirations, tendencies and, most importantly, they share common memories, a common history of the proud, strong communist traditions of Iran. In the future this layer may be able to rise from the dust once again to assist in their own way in the building of the working class party that could become a rallying point. In this way this layer could contribute with invaluable experience and speed up the process of revolutionary events.

However, the key layer that can push events forward is the organised working class. This layer has made great advances over the last decade. They have developed with lightning speed. The absence of a traditional bureaucracy has helped this process. But the main reason for this has been the absolute growth of large scale production and the housing bubble that caused a temporary upswing in the construction industry. This relative improvement in employment – although in reality it is probably just a slower fall and the rise of company profits in face of falling living standards allowed some organisations to form and to reach some success. This in turn quickly developed the political level of involved workers. The revolutionary movement urgently needs the coming onto the scene of the working class. An all out general strike would be the prelude for overthrowing the regime. Out of this movement, it would become clear that workers need their own independent political organisation/party. When they succeed in creating this organisation it would become the main player in the coming events.

Whatever happens, the youth and the workers must try to connect. If they stay separated valuable time, experience and energy could be lost. If, on the other hand, they succeed in connecting, the revolutionary process would well on the way towards a climax.

The revolutionary Marxists must aim at winning the best elements of the workers and the youth, orientating them towards the working class and its organisations and patiently educating them in our methods and ideas. The future will bring more eruptions on even higher levels than we have seen. The mood has become more serious and the revolutionaries more bitter. The strong communist traditions of Iranian society are being rapidly revived. The Islamic regime had aimed to obliterate Marxism and Communism of society by killing tens of thousands of Communist militants in the 1980s but in the years since then the ideas of Marxism have found a new popularity within the youth. There are thousands among university students and youth all over Iran and among the advanced sections of the working class who consider themselves socialists and Marxists and many more are gravitating toward socialist ideas. In addition to the old communist formations of the 1979 revolution that may survive in one form or another, mainly consisting of their old activists (see above), in the last decade new socialist organisations have been and still are being established all over Iran. Some of the biggest new communist organisations have roots in the tendency of Worker-communism that is characterized by the works of Mansour Hekmat. Organisations like the Worker-communist Party of Iran and some of its splinter groups have experienced a significant growth since the beginning of the movement, reflecting a growing interest in the ideas of communism amongst the new generation of youth and worker activists. Also growing is the Communist Party of Iran with its traditional mass organisation in Kurdistan, Komalah, and its news cells all over Iran.

The examples of growth in communist formations noted here is only a glimpse of what is to come. In the coming period we will witness large regroupments of existing organisations and the rise of new ones.

The Revolution itself will put all tendencies to the test. What is now needed is a cadre organisation, firmly based in the ideas of Marxism that can sink roots within the workers’ movement. As in 1979, and even more now, hundreds of thousands and even millions will be attracted by the ideas of Socialism. Through their own experience in the struggle, the masses will come to understand that the struggle for democratic demands can only be realised as part of a struggle for Socialism. This time we need to make sure that the movement has a correct leadership and strategy that can lead to victory. Theoretical clarification is of paramount importance. The history of Iran and the world shows that even a small organisation with the clear understanding of the tasks ahead can become an influential force in the course of the revolution, by participating in the mass organisations thrown up by the movement as its most advanced and resolute section.


It does not take much now to see that the days of Islamic regime are numbered. In the absence of a clear leadership and working class organization, the final blow and the final collapse of the regime may be delayed for some time, weeks, months or even a few years. But there is no doubt that the Islamic regime will soon fall and this will only the beginning of a period of sharp class struggle in Iran.

Whatever seemingly “calm” situation that may arise will be short and unstable. The economic crisis is like dark clouds in the skies above Tehran. The clergy and the Guards will not have the means to sustain their base. They simply will not have the money to pay off all their supporters. As the fight over the shrinking wealth intensifies there will be even less for the lower layers. The US seems more and more keen on playing along with the hardliner factions, but the concessions acquired from the US will not go to the people. At the top it is every man for himself. Decomposition and deterioration has weakened the regime to the degree that, as we said earlier, its eventual fall is inevitable. But what will replace it?

The lack of a revolutionary leadership would probably allow for some kind of bourgeois democracy to be established, but it would not be a stable regime. It would be a regime where the bourgeoisie will try to consolidate its position, but where the workers will resist. This will open up class differentiation within the movement on a much higher level than we have seen so far. Adding to the political instability will be the economic problems, recession, inflation, unemployment and (following the recent events) a steep decline in investments are not things that will go away under "pure" capitalism. The economic crisis of today has hit Iran harder than most other countries. This will seriously narrow the room for manoeuvre of any regime in the future. Even Khomeini, who came to power on the shoulders of tens of millions in February, was confronted with big strikes and demonstrations of the unemployed by May. It pushed him so much that by June he was imprisoning labour leaders for strike activity.

The conditions of relative freedom that will follow the fall of the regime will be the best opportunity for Marxist ideas to reach the masses of workers and youth. The historical experience shows that such conditions will always mean a rapid growth for workers’ organisations and revolutionary tendencies.

The question of who controls the resources of society will come to the fore sooner or later. If the masses had a party by that time these events would happen sooner rather than later, but with the present vacuum this may be dragged out. In any case, it is only a socialist revolution that can solve the problems of the Iranian people. The numerous, well educated and energetic youth, the proud and militant women, the highly concentrated workers and, in general, all the people with their different nationalities and rich cultures can only fulfil their true potential with a democratically planned production and a socialist society.

The most pressing needs of Iranian society can only be solved by putting an end to the capitalist system. It would be perfectly possible to provide free health care, childcare, education and a decent life for all on condition that the commanding heights of the economy (the big banks, factories and corporations) that are in private hands are taken over and run under a planned production and democratic workers’ control and management. This is the only way out of capitalist anarchy and towards a society that has as its aim the highest possible living conditions of the masses and not the preservation of profit for a few at any price.

The Socialist regime will be the most consistent defender of democratic rights and freedoms and the only one that can actually achieve those. These will include complete freedom of expression, speech and assembly, complete separation of religion and state, an end to all forms of discrimination based on sex, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation in the realms of law, employment, etc. and also recognising the right to self-determination of all nationalities living in Iran while defending the idea that a voluntary union of all the masses of Iran is the best way forward.

If such a victory is reached, it would not stop at the present Iranian borders. Internationalism would be inherent in every facet of the revolution. On the one side the need for rapid modernisation and development of industry and production will force the revolution to broaden its borders, and on the other side it is inevitable that the movement would spread to all countries within the region, the peoples of which share a lot of sufferings and aspirations with the Iranian people, and this would also spread across the world.

A successful revolution in Iran would be a signal for revolution throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Already the revolutionary movement of the Iranian masses has shaken every government in the Middle East and changed the world political situation. A victory for a socialist revolution in Iran could dwarf anything humanity has ever seen. It would be a firm step towards building a socialist federation of the Middle East, a world federation of socialist states and a socialist future for the whole of humankind.


« Part four