Millions of Iranians have come out on the streets demanding a change in regime. The movement that was first sparked off by “electoral fraud” has become a movement to demand complete democratic rights and against the dictatorship of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is an interview (conducted on July 2nd 2009) with Arash, an Iranian socialist, which was originally made to explain the situation in Iran to an Indonesian audience.
Ted Sprague: Can you explain to our readers about the electoral fraud in Iran and the movement that has emerged out of it?
Arash: Well, politics works in mysterious ways! If you want to take things at face value you have to believe millions of people have come onto the streets, in a direct clash with the deadly forces of an oppressive regime just because of some “electoral fraud” between candidates that didn’t really have a difference in platform! But that is not the case. You can’t analyze events without seeing them in the context and their background.
The truth is that people participated in the elections and massively voted for Mousavi for a reason which wasn’t his platform or anything like that. People had seen the obvious splits in the ruling clique of the Islamic Republic and they wanted to use these splits. They wanted to play off one wing of the regime against the other to get rid of them all eventually. The Mousavi wing advocated lifting somewhat the repressive measures of the regime to prevent or delay the people’s uprising against the whole regime. But the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad wing couldn’t really allow that. They knew that if they concede a little bit of freedom, people will want more and eventually would not stop short of overthrowing the whole regime. That’s why they staged a “coup”, a velvet coup d’etat, if you wish. They declared Ahmadinejad the winner with a ridiculously high margin of 16 million votes. But they hadn’t expected that the people would not just go home and accept that Khamenei can just do this with impunity. They came out massively and we witnessed the largest demonstrations of the past 30 years. This wasn’t and isn’t about Mousavi anymore. Even voting for Mousavi wasn’t about Mousavi! It is about a huge population that hates life in the Islamic Republic and is willing to fight it step by step. What we now have is no longer a movement against “electoral fraud”, but a massive revolutionary movement against the Islamic Republic in its entirety. This is also revealed in people’s slogans. They started with “Give me back my Vote” but then moved on to shouting: “Down with the Dictator!” and “Down with Khamenei!” and, although to a lesser extent, “We don’t want a theocracy!”
TS: It has been three weeks since the start of the protest; can you give an update as to how this movement has developed? And who is leading it?
A: I think I hinted at this in my previous answer. The movement started spontaneously, which is normal, even though its scope was unprecedented and extraordinary. You suddenly had more than 5 million demonstrating all over Iran! Immediately after the election, the people’s demand was of course for the repealing of the vote and giving power to Mousavi and so they perceived him as their leader. They called on him (and Karoubi, another “Reformist” candidate) to “get back their votes”. But of course Mr. Mousavi and Karoubi are much more afraid of millions of people on the streets than they are of the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad gangs.
So they decided ‑ and did their best actually to achieve this ‑ to send the people home. In the first week we had a pattern of Mousavi calling for “no demonstrations” to “save people’s lives” but then the people showed up and he had to go there and speak. He was being psuhed by the events.
Giving a concise and concrete answer to your question is hard because this “movement” is not a homogenous one and changes every movement. What is definite is that it has shown great courage, which means it is ready to fight the Islamic Republic. What is also evident is that it lacks a leadership that could lead it to the results it desires. Mousavi and Karoubi are part and parcel of this regime and they would never willingly lead an opposition movement against the regime. The people’s aim is really an end to the Islamic Republic. But they lack an effective leadership to lead them to this.
TS: The Ahmadinejad government has claimed that this movement was organized by the imperialist powers (the CIA in particular) in order to topple the regime. Is this true?
A: Well, anybody who has lived in Iran for a while knows that for them everything is organized by Israel and the CIA. Independent intellectuals, writers, poets, journalists, even youth who just want to have fun are usually attacked in this manner. This is because oppressive regimes never want to concede that people are actually against them!
Of course this is ridiculous. This is a genuine mass movement with millions on the streets.
TS: Quite a number of people in the left support Ahmadinejad, including Chavez. What do you have to say about this?
A: First you have to differentiate Chavez from other “Leftists”. Chavez is a head of state and he has to carry out some formalities which are acceptable as long as it is about getting trade agreements and similar questions (which are vital for Venezuela). But he is making serious mistakes in his position toward Ahmadinejad. He does not understand that the real friends of the Venezuelan Revolution are the masses of the world, including Iran. His support for the hated Ahmadinejad has unfortunately led to a feeling of hatred on the part of many Iranians towards him and the Bolivarian Revolution. I was in a solidarity demonstration recently and I heard some people claiming that Venezuela is sending police forces to crush the protesters in Tehran! While this is probably just a rumour, it shows to what degree people have feelings against him that they are circulating these rumours.
Chavez has to reverse this position he has adopted. He actually has some leverage with the Iranian government and should have at least voiced some concern. Even if he wants to only think about the immediate benefits at this stage, I should tell him that this government of the Islamic Republic will not be in a power for long! And he had better wait for the new government to have good relations with! I am confident that he will eventually change his position, especially as many parts of the Bolivarian movement are voicing their concern over this. I, for example, read a statement by the Venezuelan Marxists (Revolutionary Marxist Current, CMR) that disagreed with Chavez over this question.
As I said, while Chavez is a head of state that has taken a lot of progressive measures, but who is making some lamentable mistakes about Iran, other leftists are just showing how disconnected they are from reality.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read on wsws.org, the website of the “International Committee of the Fourth International”, that they are connecting the protests to foreign intervention. This website is actually quite popular among some Iranian leftists… or was popular I should say, as of now! I haven’t read anything from the International Socialist Tendency yet. But they have to do something about their support for the Islamic Republic over the years. Anybody on the left who has supported this regime even for a day will be seen as being so guilty when we succeed in getting rid of the Islamic Republic and establishing a workers’ state in our country. They then will have to come and kneel before the Iranian workers and socialists to be forgiven! We will forgive them then, but we will never forget how, when this regime was killing us in our thousands, they supported it.
TS: Mousavi has been portrayed as a reformist by the media, the face of democratic change in Iran. What is the feeling of ordinary Iranians towards him?
A: Let me get this straight first: the “Reformists” are a wing of the Islamic Republic that has played a huge part in murdering tens of thousands and oppressing society. They are a fierce defender of the vicious Islamic regime and its founder, Khomeini. Actually their main platform has always been for a “Return to Khomeini”! This is the kind of reform they want! They remind me of a song by Phil Ochis, an American radical artist, who mockingly talks about how the Democrats and the Republicans in the US are really no different and they are all united against the people and the workers. It is the same with the “reformists” in Iran.
But how the average Iranian feels about Mousavi differs every week, if not every day. I think Iranians understand that he is part of the regime and that they don’t really want him but they are also very practical and say to themselves “he is much better than Ahmadinejad, so let’s get him for now”. He will be looked on as the leader for now, but people will soon realize he is not there to lead them to power and will pass beyond him.
TS: Now, many commentators have compared this movement to the one in 1979, the so-called Islamic Revolution, is this assessment correct?
A: What is definitely incorrect is to call our Great Revolution of 1979 an “Islamic Revolution”. It was not. It was a popular revolution against the monarchy and for Freedom and Equality which was hijacked, with the help of the western governments, by the reactionary Khomeini and mullahs. You have to remember that Political Islam would have had no real chance to take power in Iran if it had not been for the aid of western governments. They found this dead corpse in the dustbin of history and brought it back to life because they realised its anti-left and oppressive potential. That needs a longer discussion…
As to the relation of the current movement to that revolution…well, if you ask me I’d like to say that I hope the current revolutionary movement will fulfil the goals that the 1979 revolution failed to achieve because of its defeat by counter-revolutionary mullahs. I also believe that the 1979 revolution, even though it was brutally defeated, provides important lessons to Iranian society and workers. Workers can remember how powerful they can be when they come onto the scene of history. The real commemoration of the memory of the 1979 revolution would be a revolutionary overthrowing of the counter-revolutionary Islamic regime which had hijacked that revolution and going toward the real goals, that are Freedom, Equality and the Well-being of the people, which by the way, are only possible under Socialism.
TS: How is this movement going to affect the political landscape in the Middle East?
A: It has already affected the whole world, not only the Middle East. The people of the world have been inspired by the extraordinary courage that their Iranian brothers and sisters have shown. Once more they have come onto streets to fight a vicious regime. In a period of 30 years, this people have fought two of the most brutal dictatorships in human history. I think anybody who has fought even for one day against oppression and tyranny will be inspired by this people.
The conclusion of this movement has of course much more important implications in the region and internationally. The overthrowing of the Islamic Republic, in my idea, will lead to an end of Political Islam as an international movement because this movement will lose its main head. The resources for the Islamists in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria will dry up and this is only good news for the people of those countries! As I said, it will also prove to everybody that no regime is indestructible and one has to fight against dictatorships and once the collective power of the workers and people is on the scene, any regime will be brought down.
I, of course have much higher hopes for the new Iranian Revolution. I am hoping, and I will fight for, a socialist revolution that would establish a socialist republic in Iran and if that happens, if a country of 70 million people becomes socialist, an international battle will begin that will only end with the end of capitalism and will open up a new page in human history.
TS: What about the labour movement in Iran?
A: the labour movement has its weaknesses and strengths. It lacks traditional mass organizations (like Trade Unions which are almost non-existent) but on the other hand it has great revolutionary traditions like the workers’ councils which were formed in the 1979 revolution. It also has a lot of potential militancy and has so far shown no illusions in any wing of the regime, which is extraordinary. But it is yet to decisively enter the struggle and when that happens, the fate of the Iranian revolution will be sealed.
TS: Where do you think this movement will lead? It has been 3 weeks of constant demos, how do you think it will end?
A: I have never been a sole “predictor” of the event and I like to think myself as part of the movement that tries to move it to the left. This revolution will be stopped by a lot people at different “stations”, if you will. They will try to tell us when is the time for what, and that the time for what hasn’t come YET. The task is for a revolutionary leadership to emerge that would be accepted by the people and would lead their revolution all the way to victory, which means overthrowing the Islamic Republic and laying the foundations of a new society. My wish is for Iran to go socialist and I know this is not possible without a mass revolutionary party that would lead the workers and the people.
But apart from what I wish, one thing is for sure: Iran will never be the same again. The beginning of the end for the Islamic Republic has started and in the aftermath of the destruction of this regime, the people will have a real chance to found a humane society that would be a beacon of hope for the oppressed people all over the world.