Iran: On the character of the present lull and the tasks of the Marxists

The Ashura uprising marked the beginning of a new phase in the movement of the Iranian masses that started last June. At the time we wrote that a point of no return had been crossed and that it was becoming increasingly apparent for vast active layers of the masses that the movement had to first of all topple the Islamic Republic with its state apparatus and military machinery. Ironically, the so called green movement have been seemingly in a lull ever since.

The lack of a revolutionary leadership is temporarily acting as a brake for the movement to go forward. However, despite what some think, the movement is not dead. Under the surface a new upsurge is being prepared based on the qualitatively higher level of consciousness that was developed in the days of Ashura and Tasua.

None of the contradictions in the Iranian society have been solved. On the contrary, the political, economical and social crisis in all spheres of the Iranian society have only been intensified. No class or layer is comfortable in their current situation. The recent execution of 5 Kurdish leftist activists, the following strike in the Kurdish areas, the spontaneous mass demonstration against president Ahmadinejad outside Tehran University and the nationwide pickets on May Day are all indications that under the surface of the apparent calm new explosions and clashes between the classes and layers are being prepared on a higher level than we have yet seen.

The main obstacles of the green movement

The present lull and temporary withdrawal, ironically, took shape after the massive Ashura uprising on December 25. The scope and the unprecedented show of force from the masses on the one hand highlighted the utter impotence and weakness of the regime, but on the other hand also higlighted the main weakness of the mass movement. The lack of a program, an organization and the absence of the workers as a class are beginning to act as a brake on the movement. In the end these problems arise in the absence of a conscious revolutionary mass-leadership. Although the level of consciousness was considerably raised and the aims of the movement became clear to thousands, the tools to act on this new basis were not there.

We explained this process then:

"The size and qualitative level of the last struggles bring to the fore all the strengths of the mass movement, but it also magnifies its weaknesses. After the Ashura demonstrations there were some small and weak layers who had previously been sympathetic to the movement that starte"d wavering. They started asking themselves, “why are people on the streets, burning things and fighting with the police? What do they want? Who represents their views?”

"Although for now, shifts like these will only have a very superficial and minimal character, we should not take them lightly. History is full of these shifts. The counter-revolution feeds on the wavering of these elements and layers. This is a basic law of all class struggle - the loss of a base for one side means a strengthening of the other." (A new stage: A balance sheet of the present Iranian revolution, Hamid Alizadeh, Jan 2010)

The period since the Ashura uprising has shown that the lull, although still very superficial, had a broader scope than we initially thought. Yet it is also clear that it does not indicate a decisive retreat of the movement, rather that it signals awareness of the necessity for new means and methods. The issue is put in this way by the masses "we have put our lives on the stake and we have used our full force, but no fundamental change has taken place. A new method is needed."

The days of action that came after Ashura clearly showed the result of these moods. Although the brave front-runners of the movement still came out on these days without receiving significant blows, it was also clear that they didn't have the broadest layers of the movement with them. In the face of massive repression, and with the absence of a plan and a program, many decided to stay home rather than risk their lives just to go home again.

Not defeated - Combined and uneven development

Trotsky writes in the preface to the History of the Russian revolution:

“The masses go into a revolution not with a prepared plan of social reconstruction, but with a sharp feeling that they cannot endure the old regime. Only the guiding layers of a class have a political program, and even this still requires the test of events, and the approval of the masses. The fundamental political process of the revolution thus consists in the gradual comprehension by a class of the problems arising from the social crisis – the active orientation of the masses by a method of successive approximations.”

A revolution is a live struggle of social forces, each with their own inner contradictions, that rise and peak at different times. This struggle does not express it self through a straight line but in a combined and uneven manner. This is especially visible in the present movement in Iran.

We must remember that the movement initially had its inception in the student struggles of 1999!. It took 10 years for the movement to overcome the first stages and to begin the period of true mass struggle directly challenging the regime. At every step the movement will experience new obstacles that, having no revolutionary leadership, it must learn to tackle by trial and error. In the same way the movement went through several temporary and apparent periods of weakening before it exploded during the days of Ashura and Tasua.

Also if we look at other revolutions, for instance the the Spanish revolution (1930-1937) that had many similarities with the present situation in Iran, we see several periods of reaction where the masses withdraw and moods of pessimism start spreading through some layers, but only to prepare for new leaps forward. This was either caused by new balance of forces within the camp of revolution or by the whip of counterrevolution. What communists should do is to use the temporary calm to organize and consolidate their organizations so as to stand stronger in the next wave of battles.

The working class

It is clear that the lack of the working class as an independent actor with its own means and aims have been a source of weakness for the revolutionary movement, but could we have expected anything else? There are 5 main reasons for the lack of the organized working class on the scene of revolution.

  1. Lack of organization: For the organized workers to participate, organization is needed. All historical organizations has been completely destroyed in Iran and new ones are only now beginning to appear. Although this could change very fast it serves as a heavy brake for the movement of the workers

  2. The Economic Crisis: The economic crisis and the further exponential decline in the conditions of the workers have acted like a choke for workers all around the world, especially in Iran where the crisis is more severe than the rest of the world. So initially, without leadership and organization, the increasingly acute difficulties related to unemployment heavily dampened workers' struggles.

  3. Mistakes of the leaders: Although the Iranian workers' movement have come a long way there are still weaknesses, especially in the leadership. The leaders of the few trade unions, although they supported the movement, did not act upon their support. They should have linked up with the demonstrations with strike action. For instance, the Vahed Bus union could have called a strike in the days of massive demonstrations after the election and during Ashura.

  4. The lack of a revolutionary program: A good program is invaluable in a revolutionary struggle - the lack of one is a source of great weakness. While many have raised the slogan of a general strike they have yet failed to link it with the necessity of toppling the regime. However to carry out a general strike, which in Iran at present effectively means challenging the state, the lack of a perspective of toppling the regime means an invitation for bloody and widespread retaliation as soon as the state has regained strength. This is logic for most. Therefore in order to gather the mass of the working class, a bold program linked with the slogan of "down with the regime" is necessary.

  5. Lack of a revolutionary party of the working class: All in all the above mentioned reasons can be boiled down to the lack of a revolutionary leadership. The cruel character of the totalitarian dictatorship and the lack of a revolutionary party and leadership clears the way for massive illusions in bourgeois democracy on the part of the masses. This is the most indubitable peculiarity of the present period in Iran. These traits have already made a significant impact on the course of the mass movement in Iran and will continue to do so.

Trotsky writing on the the perspectives of revolution in fascist Germany wrote:

“Historically, the direct replacement of the fascist regime by a workers’ state is not excluded. But for the realization of this possibility it is necessary that a powerful illegal Community Party form itself in the process of struggle against fascism, under the leadership of which the proletariat could seize power. However, it must be said that the creation of a revolutionary party of this sort in illegality, is not very probable; at any rate, it is not assured by anything in advance. The discontentment, indignation, fermentation of the masses will, from a certain moment onward, grow much faster than the illegal formation of the party vanguard. And every lack of clarity in the consciousness of the masses will inevitably help democracy.

“This does not at all mean that after the fall of fascism, Germany will again have to go through a long school of Parliamentarism. Fascism will not eradicate the past political experience; it is even less capable of changing the social structure of the nation. It would be the greatest mistake to expect a new lengthy democratic epoch in the development of Germany. But in the revolutionary awakening of the masses, democratic slogans will inevitably constitute the first chapter. Even if the further progress of the struggle should in general not permit, even for a single day, the regeneration of a democratic state – and this is very possible – the struggle itself cannot develop by the circumvention of democratic slogans! A revolutionary party that would attempt to jump over this stage would break its neck.” (Leon Trotsky: Fascism and Democratic Slogans - 1933)

The democratic illusions and the complete vacuum of workers organization has undoubtedly served to temporarily blur the class nature of the struggles. Thousands of the natural leaders of the working class seeing no alternative, and correctly following their instinctive search for unity, have been working tirelessly side by side with other brave men and women from all parts of society. There is nothing incorrect in that, but the class divisions in the movement have been blurred to a large degree by this. This can only be temporary though. Already now we have seen signs of a change in this aspect. The hectic daily work of the movement has ceased and a period of calm has emerged. The epicenter of activities has altered and a molecular process is taking places in the factories and the working class neighborhoods who are being increasingly pulled in towards the movement.

This process is already visible. The amount of strikes has increased dramatically from the very low levels before Ashura. Mayday this year - although not a numerical success at all compared to last year - for the first time showed a truly national workers movement, with the organization of Mayday pickets and demos in many cities.

Talk of actively bringing the workers in to the movement is now widespread and the need for a general strike is clear to most. With the success of the Kurdish general strike on May 13, this might even materialize sooner than expected. The humiliation of the regime in Kurdistan was undoubtedly a great inspiration for millions of Iranians. It is not at all ruled out, at some point, that the "whip of counter-revolution" might cause another general strike on a nationwide basis.

The task of the communists is to prepare for such a development by taking up the demands of the workers within the green movement and, in this way, work for the linking up of the movement with the working class. At the same time we must explain the necessity of a general strike while assisting in the building of organizing committees in the factories and neighborhoods for its preparation.

No matter what, the situation clearly opens up for the active participation of the working class. Although this development will only show its full significance if and when the regime is toppled. In such a situation the inability of capitalism to make any concessions to the masses will become clear and the perspectives of socialism will open up before the masses. We must remember that revolution is a process that can last a long time. The Spanish revolution lasting from 1930 to 1937 only started to take a clearly socialist character after four or five years, with the workers taking over the factories and running them themselves.

Splits in the top increase

Contrary to what they had hoped for, the regime has not been able to unite and consolidate it self since it was continuously shaken severely from June until December. On the contrary, internal splits and conflicts keep devouring the regime from within.

The most clear display of this was the fact that the parliament, dominated by Ahmadinejad allies (!), did not approve the presidents suggested $40b cuts in subsidies to consumer goods such as gasoline and bread. Instead they offered a $20b cut that Ahmadinejad in turn made clear he would not necessarily carry out.

Another important sign of deep splits was revealed when Elias Naderan, a conservative member of the parliament announced that Iranian first vice-president Mohammad Reza Rahimi was the head of the Fatemi street ring (large corruption ring). However, the allegations against Rahimi have not materialized into any legal actions. This incident have shown huge splits, not only among the different ruling cliques, but also within the camp of the conservatives themselves.

In "normal" times all these events might have been ignored or even accepted, but in a situation where the regime is trying to keep its base, their constant undermining of the system puts enormous strains on the relationship between its different sectors. They are all forced to attack and reveal each other in order to justify their own existence and defend their legitimacy.

Lenin explains how the inability of the ruling classes to rule and live as usual is the first pre-requisite for a revolution:

"[First condition for a revolutionary situation is] When it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes”, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way;..." (Lenin: The Collapse of the Second International - 1915)

Trotsky further explains that this process is in no way a static one:

"The changes in the mood both of the proletariat and the middle class correspond and develop parallel to the changes in mood of the ruling class when it sees that it is unable to save its system, loses confidence in itself, begins to disintegrate, splits into factions and cliques." (Leon Trotsky: What Is A Revolutionary Situation? - 1931)

The splits in the Iranian regime, on the one side, was caused by the mass movement which was then further developed by its massive thrust, but that does not exhaust the question. The further weakening and disintegration of the regime also plays the role of keeping the movement alive and can even serve to act as an impulse for the further development of it.

The need for a revolutionary leadership

As we have seen, the process of revolution in Iran is in no way over yet. None of the parties involved are satisfied with the present situation and sooner or later the cease fire will be broken. New explosions are being prepared and the Iranian masses will again burst forward to take their destinies into their own hands.

The potential of the movement is immense. However, as we have seen, the necessity of a revolutionary leadership is equally immense in order to fulfill this potential. In fact the only reason that the regime still exists is the lack of a revolutionary leadership for the movement.

As time passes and the question of a leadership for the movement still remains, the possibility of Mousavi becoming the accepted "leader" within wider layers of the movement is becoming clear. But his leadership will not lead anywhere. His main role is to prevent the mass movement from moving towards socialism. The fact that he denounces the "radical" (read the most dedicated and revolutionary) parts of the movement in the name of unity (!?) is sufficient proof of his methods. Unity between the henchmen of the Islamic Republic and the the oppressed masses is like the unity of the fox and the hen. In the long run Mousavi's struggle for the leadership will not solve the question of leadership, rather it will pose it even clearer.

The tide of history has reduced the revolutionary Marxists to a minimum and are thereby unable to fill this vacuum. The most important task therefore is to break the isolation. The first step of this should be the building of a core of cadres educated in the method of Marxism and thereby able to navigate in the stormy events of the revolution.

In this respect the present calm should be utilized to the fullest to organize and educate intensively. Every class conscious worker or youth should join his/her fellow comrades and start the building of cells and study groups. These groups should meet regularly to discuss first of all the classics of Marxism and the lessons that can be drawn from them. At the same time there should be debates on, and plans for, the way to apply these lessons to the movement surrounding them.

Trotsky, writing on the Spanish revolution wrote:

"We have very few forces. But the advantage of a revolutionary situation consists precisely in the fact that even a small group can become a great force in a brief space of time, providing that it gives a correct prognosis and that it issues correct slogans in time." (Leon Trotsky: The Character of the Revolution - 1931)

What separates the Marxists from all others are the ideas of Scientific socialism. These are not ideas that have fallen from the skies. They are the accumulated experience of the world working class developed on the basis of 200 years of class struggle. To humbly and carefully study these ideas must be a first priority for all communists - not for academic reasons, but because they are the most complete guide for action.

In the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky lies a true treasure for anyone who wants not only to understand society, but also to change it. The writings of Trotsky on the Spanish revolution especially contain a wealth of lessons for Iranian revolutionaries. 

If the Marxists work hard, maintain their sense of proportion and don't fall into opportunist or sectarian adventures, then success will be within reach. On the basis of the ideas and methods of Marxism it will be fully possible to build a revolutionary mass current capable of leading the working masses out of the blind alley of capitalism and towards socialism.