Chapter Seven - Iranian Perspectives
The counter-revolutionary Khomeini regime found its social basis in the petty bourgeoisie and the lumpen-proletariat. These layers had a material interest in supporting the regime. They occupied the properties of those who had fled, no longer paying rents and mortgages to the banks etc. Khomeini also got the support of millions of the poorest sections of the working class who came from the countryside to the town in search of jobs. The majority of them work on construction sites in miserable conditions. Through the Komitehs (revolutionary committees) which spring up after insurrection, the regime started to distribute medicine and clothes to these workers, and provided them with shelter through the mosques.
The Shah’s police, court and prisons had been abolished by the insurrection, while much of the civil administration remained intact. These institutions soon came down on the mullahs’ side. In March 1979 the fundamentalists established an official body of armed people, the "revolutionary guards"—though they should actually have been called the counter-revolutionary guard. They were in fact the shock-troops of Khomeini’s counter-revolution. The recruits for this Praetorian Guard of reaction were drawn from the fundamentalists’ most loyal supporters—the lumpen-proletarian layers who had existed on the fringes of the urban economy, together with the lower petty bourgeois elements who had been the most enthusiastic pro-Khomeini activists in the Komitehs.
The purpose of the creation of this armed body was to control the Komitehs self-movement and limit their scope of action, while on the other hand to take control of the Komitehs nationally. The most politically class-conscious elements in the provisional government understood that a serious mass movement in industry was the biggest threat to the new regime. So the Pasdaran was prepared for the job of liquidating the workers’ shuras and other rank-and-file committees. The Pasdaran were also used for attacks on the peasants and women’s movements and they also brutally suppressed the Kurdish national movement. These counter-revolutionary death squads then became Khomeini’s most important agency of repression, and was used every where the government found resistance. They mercilessly struck down every movement that was not under the control of the mullahs. None could stand against them. The destiny of movements like the national (Kurdish) movement, the women’s movement, the student’s movements in the universities, and so on was inextricably linked to that of the working class. Once the shuras went under, the most advanced sections of the working class were defeated and all sections of the mass movement found themselves at the mercy of the regime.
Looking back it seems to many that the rise of Khomeini was irresistible. As a matter of fact, his victory was not preordained. The regime was not as united or invincible as it appeared. There was a spilt from very beginning between the mullahs on the issue of land confiscation and on the question of the war with Iraq, which divided Rafasanjani, and Khomeini. The invasion of Iran by the Iraqi army allowed Khomeini to use the war as the excuse for a new offensive against the remnants of the revolutionary currents within society.
The Iraqi invasion
The Iranian revolution had stimulated hopes for a change all over the Middle East. Oppressed nationalities derived inspiration from the revolutionary movement of the Iranian working class against the Shah. That gave a powerful impulse to the national movement of the Kurds in the North of Iran, detonating a revolutionary upsurge which spread across the Kurdish areas in neighbouring Iraq and Turkey. The impact of the Iranian working class’s revolutionary movement to overthrow the Shah shook the reactionary Arab regimes of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and even Egypt. A wave of unrest swept through the Arab working class and middle classes throughout the Middle East.
After the Second World War, the importance of the Middle East for imperialism was enhanced by its oil resources. Three-quarters of the world’s known oil reserves are concentrated in this region. American imperialism and the Middle East ruling classes were very anxiously watching the unfolded process of the revolution in Iran. The events in Iran had serious repercussions throughout the Middle East. Multinationals such as Exxon and Mobil which had made billions of dollars in the Gulf oil fields were extremely anxious about the situation. They put pressure on the government of the USA and gathered together all the sheikhs, kings and emirs to exorcise the revolutionary spectre from the Middle East.
The outbreak of demonstrations in the oilfields in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia alarmed the Pentagon. They decided to play the "Iraqi card" in a desperate attempt to destroy the Iranian revolution, which, even in a distorted form, was having an unsettling effect on a strategically vital part of the world. The American imperialists imagined that if they backed and supported Iraq against Iran in the war, this would restore the Iranian pro-American elements to power on Iraqi bayonets. They therefore incited Saddam Hussein to attack Iran, and equipped the Iraqi army with latest weapons—they even supplied the chemical weapons about which they now so loudly complain.
Saddam Hussein was very glad to receive the American imperialists’ offer to attack Iran. Saddam thought that after the fall of the Shah, the watchdog of American imperialism, he would shift the regional balance of power in the Middle East in Iraq’s favour. He used the war against the Kurdish liberation struggle and diverted the Iraqi masses from the path of opposition to his regime. He also managed to isolate the opposition inside the Baath Party. But when Iraqi forces launched an attack on the Iran’s Khuzistan region in September 1980, Khomeini was even more pleased than Saddam. The USA’s backing for Iraq’s attack presented him with a golden opportunity to consolidate his position even more and to mobilise the masses behind him. The war initially aroused mass enthusiasm. Iran conscripted millions of poor people and formed the baseej militia to fight back against Iraq. Khomeini utilised the war as an instrument of repression against the shuras, to which he countered the idea of "Islamic Councils". On a tide of patriotic feeling, the last remnants of workers’ control were abolished and replaced by these Islamic Councils which faithfully carried out the commands of the "Leader". In this way, Khomeini successfully completed the process of turning the revolution into counter-revolution, restoring the state and capitalism.
The Tudeh Party did not play any independent role in relation to the war. It is true that, in the beginning, the situation was difficult. Iran was under attack from the reactionary Saddam Hussein, who, with the active backing of US imperialism, was intent upon dismembering Iran and crushing the revolution in blood. Naturally, the masses were prepared to fight against the twin enemies of Saddam Hussein and US imperialism, "the Great Satan". But, on the one hand, the healthy anti-imperialist instincts of the workers and peasants were being abused by Khomeini as a screen to carry through the counter-revolution. On the other hand, the only way to defeat Saddam Hussein and imperialism was by the working class taking power into its hands and waging a revolutionary war against Iraq, appealing to the Iraqi workers to rise against Saddam.
It was the elementary duty of the Communist Party to maintain a principled class position. They should have said to the masses: "Yes, Saddam Hussein is our enemy. We must fight to defend our revolution. But we have no trust in Khomeini to do this. Let us fight to take over the land, the factories and the banks under the control of our own shuras. Then we can have the confidence and the strength to fight against the Iraqi invaders and wage a revolutionary war the imperialists and their Arab lackeys by spreading the revolution throughout the Middle East." But, to their eternal shame, throughout all this process Stalinists of the Tudeh Party supportrd Khomeini.
The Iranian masses are still paying a ghastly price for the betrayal of the war that dragged on for eight brutal years costing one million Iranian lives. In short space of time, the fumes of chauvinism wore off and the masses grasped the reality of fundamentalist demagogy in all its nakedness They compared the speeches of the mullahs encouraging Iranian mothers to sacrifice their sons at the front and the workers and peasants to go hungry in the interests of the war effort with the reality of corruption, voracious greed and all-pervasive hypocrisy of the ruling caste. Khomeini had promised a "pure" Islamic Republic, free from corruption. Now the masses had seen the real face of the mullahs and understood the inner essence of their creed.
In an article dated 9 February 1979, Ted Grant wrote: "But once having come to power, the futility of the reactionary and medieval ideas of abolishing interest, while not altering the economic basis of society will be shown to result in chaos. Support for Khomeini will melt away after he forms a government." Two decades later, the Iranian masses are undoubtedly tired of the monstrous regime of the mullahs. Lord Acton once said: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." We have seen in Iran that the combination of absolute power and enormous wealth brought the Shah’s regime to a precipitous end. Now the same fate awaits the regime of the Ayatollahs. Every bureaucracy is prone to corruption, and that of the mullahs is no exception. Long ago Frederick Engels explained that, in any society where art, science and government is the monopoly of a minority, that minority will always abuse its position in its own interests.
The basis of Iran, Islamic state system is velayat-e-faqih or the Rule of the Religious Jurist, Khomeini himself, of course, in his lifetime had absolute authority over all vital matters of state. As Supreme Leader, he was head of the army, the security services and the judiciary. He had the final say on both internal and international affairs. No important decision could be taken without his consent. It is thus the duty and prerogative of the Supreme Leader to oversee all political actions and ensure that they are in agreement with Islam. He holds such enormous power on the assumption that he is the executor of God’s will on earth.
On paper, of course, everything is most democratic. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is now the Supreme Leader of the Islamic State and also functions as the Chief of State and Commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The "reformer" Khatami is president and the 270 member majilis develops and passes legislation. But then all legislation passed by the majilis is reviewed for adherence to "Islamic and constitutional principles" by the Council of Guardians which consists of six clerical members appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists who are appointed by the head of the judiciary and approved by the Majilis.
The partyless election which was held in June 1988 resulted in a clear-cut factional regrouping, which was actually the result of the permanent pressure of the masses against war and economic slowdown. The spilt in the ranks of the mullahs became more apparent in the February 1997 elections to the fifth majilis. An unexceptional conservative candidate had been expected to win easily, but Iranians, particularly the young and frustrated, decided otherwise. The broad masses of workers, youth, women and intellectuals cast their votes in favour of the "reformist" Khatami. The landslide victory of Khatami was a clear indicator that the majority of the population was tired of the mullahs’ oppressive regime.
They voted for Khatami and the hope he had awakened of a political, social and economic change. But Khatami’s promises of political liberty, economic prosperity and the ending of unemployment was just so much demagogy. However, as a result of Khatami’s demagogy, the mullah’s regime was more divided than ever before. There was a growing split between the two wings of reformists and conservatives. Each wing swears loyalty to the "fundamental principles of Islam" and each claim to be the rightful heir to Ayatollah Khomeini’s legacy. But, in an effort to defend their political and economic interests, each offers a contradictory interpretation of this heritage and fight each other with sticks and stones while all the while swearing absolute loyalty to the same principles!
How is one to make sense of this apparent contradiction? Only the scientific method of historical materialism can provide us with the answer. Religious ideas, as Marx frequently pointed, out do not drop from the clouds. They do not possess a life independent of society. To put it another way: whenever an idea is put forward (even an incorrect and unscientific idea) and gets mass support, then we can be sure that this idea reflects the material interests of a definite class or group in society. It was the growing pressure of the masses which split the religious establishment at the top. As De Tocqueville explained, the most dangerous movement for a bad government is indeed when it sets about reforms. The press, relatively free under the new government, has become the main battle ground for war between the two factions. Most of the dozens of newspapers that have emerged in the past year are on the side of the reformers’ wing. The war between the two wings reached a climax when pro-reformist journalists slammed into everything and everybody from the intelligence service to former president to senior Imam Ayatollah. They scored a big hit when they forced the secretive iIntelligence ministry to admit its involvement in an order to murder political dissidents and intellectuals. But this was the signal for an all-out attack on the press by the conservative mullahs.
The weapon of provocation is being freely used by the reactionaries in their campaign against the reformers. Periodic bomb attacks apparently aimed at the intelligence ministry are used to lend support to the hardliners’ charge that Khatami’s policies are leading the country to chaos. On April 20, 2000, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, gave the hardliners the green light. Some reformist newspapers, he declared, had become bases of the enemy. On the following day, hardline mullahs ordered the Pasdarans to raid the houses and offices of critical journalists. They were arrested and tortured. By the end of that week sixteen newspapers and journals had been shut down by the hardline judiciary. Newspapers like Soh-1 Emrouz, Fath, Khordad, Arya, Neshat, Asri-1-A Zadegan all fell victim to the purge. Several prominent journalists like Akbar Gangi and Shamsolvaezin are in jail. They were accused of disparaging Islam and the religious elements of the Islamic revolution.
The fight among the mullahs intensified still further after the 18 February election in which pro-reform candidates captured a majority of seats in the 290-member majilis. While this battle is going on, Khatami, the leader of the reformist wing, remained hidden behind the scenes. He delivered a tough speech in which he vowed the reforms would continue. But in effect he did a vanishing act. The cowardly conduct of the reformist leaders merely encouraged the reactionaries. Weakness always invites aggression. The hardliners recently had a meeting to map out a strategy for pushing him out of office.
Six reformists were put on trial, charged with anti state acts. Among the six, four were arrested on charges of attending a seminar in Berlin. Hardliner mullahs claimed that seminar was organised by the CIA to harm the Islamic system. On other hand, hardliners at the university of Teheran protested against the reforms initiated by President Khatami, They demanded that: "The advocates of American-style reforms be brought to justice." A deputy of the outgoing parliament accused Khatami of helping the enemies of the regime by his "vague rhetoric". The attack on the president is, in itself, a serious warming to all reformers. The reformists are not a coherent entity. They stood in the elections as part of an eclectic coalition of 18 different political parties and groups with different strategies and tactics. The difference between them soon came out after the attack of the hardliners on the pro-reformist journalists. They started criticising each other. Ganji was criticised by his allies for "going too far", crossing what Iranians call the "red line", that is to say, the limits to free expression that both sides tacitly understand but never define.
Thus, the "war" between the two factions at the top is reduced to mere shadow-boxing. But on the streets it is another matter altogether. The split at the top has opened the flood-gates of pent-up popular discontent. It has encouraged the movement from below. Once again it has drawn the students onto the streets. Thousands of students rallied outside Teheran University and gathered outside the campus, protesting and chanting slogans against the government. The students of Teheran Technical College staged a demonstration against the banning of newspapers, holding placards, in which they wrote the ominous words: "The people’s silence is not a sign of their consent."
Afterwards, thousands of students packed an auditorium on the main campus of Teheran University in solidarity with the protest movement. Thousands of students in other cities—Yazd, Hamadan, Arak, Mashad and llam—boycotted their classes. The old fear of the regime had declined to the point where the students felt able to defy the forces of the state. It is the starting-point for great events, like the anti-government demonstrations of the summer of 1999, that spilled over into the biggest revolutionary uprising since the 1979 February revolution.
Both wings of the mullahs live in mortal fear of revolution. Their only difference consists on the best way to prevent it: by repression or concession. But the stirrings of the masses is drawing them together, They will try to settle the conflict by compromising on limited reforms. But now the genie is out of the bottle. The masses will not be easily satisfied with partial reforms that change nothing essential. Any compromise that leaves the regime untouched will not be durable. If they do reform or if they do not, there will be revolutionary movements. The events in Iran are like the situation in 1977. The eruption of the students—that most sensitive barometer of the tension building up in society—are a warning of the explosion to come. It was the promise of press freedom and other democratic reforms that persuaded the students, and other people tired of the rule of the Mullahs, to back Khatami and help to get him elected president in 1997.
However, Khatami’s aim was not to overthrow the regime, he just wanted to pressurise the hardliners to move over and make room for him and his faction. Khatami is very anxious about the growing resentment in masses particularly the youth, he has learned the lesson from the July uprising. His constantly appeals to the hard line mullahs about the danger of new uprisings is an attempt to lean on the mass movement to get concessions. But in the moment of truth, both wings will close ranks to try to strangle the revolution at birth.
The 8th July movement was a marvellous heroic uprising which showed once again the energy of the masses particularly the youth and the rottenness of the fundamentalist system. the process was analysed at the time in The First Shots of the Iranian Revolution by Alan Woods which clearly explains that the collapse of the authority of the mullahs and the reawakening of the masses was preparing the ground for a revolutionary situation. He wrote at the time:
"The events in Iran are like the situation in tsarist Russia in the Spring of 1905. The unrest erupted on July 8, 1999, after students protested against the passage of a law curbing press freedom and the closing of a popular left-leaning newspaper. The security forces stormed a dormitory of Teheran University that evening, beating students and pushing them out of windows. It seems likely that the intention of the reactionary wing of the regime, headed by the ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wanted to provoke the students into reacting, and then crush them. In this way they hoped to eliminate the "moderate" President Muhammad Khatami.
"However, events did not work out according to plan. The savagery of the attack provoked a massive reaction which caught the mullahs entirely by surprise. Tens of thousands of student demonstrators fought with riot police in Teheran for five days the first mass demonstrations since the 1979 Revolution. ‘The demonstrations,’ Stratfor explains, ‘began as small, peaceful student protests calling for press freedom after the closure of several liberal newspapers on July 8. They later transformed into widespread riots after riot police, sent in to break-up these demonstrations, injured dozens of students and arrested several dozen others. By noon the number of demonstrators in this area exceeded 50,000. Shopkeepers along the route of the demonstration shut down their businesses and joined the demonstrators. Demonstrators attacked the patrol cars of the State Security Forces, whose agents first fired into the air and then shot at the crowd. The SSF agents were forced to flee. Government vehicles in the area and along the route of the march were set on fire by the people. Furious demonstrators attacked the Sepah and Saderat banks at Vali-Asr intersection. Mullahs who ran into the demonstration threw away their turbans and robes and fled. Crowds of anything up to 100,000 staged demonstrations and sit-downs in the capital.’
"Initially, the students confined themselves to the limited demands for press freedom in line with the limited aims of the liberal wing of the clergy. But once on the streets, the movement rapidly acquired a momentum and a life of its own. The students began to feel their own strength and their demands grew bolder and more sweeping. In demanding full democracy, they were demanding the radical abolition of the present regime. But this can only be achieved by revolutionary means. This was not at all the intention of Khatami and the so-called reformers, who immediately took fright and turned against the students. This is entirely logical. Whatever differences may separate the rival cliques fighting for power at the top of society, their fear of the masses unites them more.
"The movement of the students immediately got an echo among the general population. Ordinary Iranians joined the ranks of the students, and the protests have spread to Tabriz where one student was killed by security forces over the weekend and to Yazd, Khorramabad, Hamadan and Sharud. The potential for an all-Iranian revolutionary movement was rapidly looming.
"In an attempt to stop the movement, the Governor of Teheran had announced an official ban on all demonstrations. Bravely defying the ban, the students took to the streets facing several thousand Islamic militia, (estimated by some sources at more than 50,000) many of them brought overnight to Teheran from other towns. That day Teheran resembled an armed camp with large numbers of LEF and Intelligence Ministry’s forces occupying the city centre, while helicopters hovered above, issuing appeals from loudspeakers ‘for calm and order’ a call that was drowned out by a burst of police machine guns firing in the air and explosives used to frighten and disperse the demonstrators.
"‘By mid-day,’ writes Safa Haeri, ‘the Iranian Capital looked like a war-torn, occupied city, as Ansarshock troops and security forces would check passers-by, private cars and taxis. Demonstrations were scattered and fighting sporadic, yet everywhere protesters attacked a bank, set fire to two buses and several official buildings, tried to occupy the offices of the hated dailies Keyhan and Jomhouri Eslami, the former the mouthpiece of the Intelligence Ministry and the second speaking for Ayatollah Khamenei, the dailies’ first founder, owner and editor.’
"The next sentence is extremely important. The writer continues: ‘Curiously, shopkeepers at the sprawling central bazaar, traditionally a conservative stronghold, shut their business and joined the young demonstrators, whose ranks had swelled into thousands thanks to the ordinary population of both sexes.’
"Traditionally, the bazaar was a stronghold of the mullahs. If even this most conservative layer of Iranian society joined in the students demonstration, then the conclusion is inescapable: the days of the regime are numbered."
The revolution by its very nature is not only single event. The revolution will extent over a number of years like in Spain in the 1930s, when the revolution started in 1931, with the declaration of the Republic, and only ended in 1937 with the defeat of the May Day movement of the Barcelona proletariat. In between these two dates there were periods of great upheavals and revolutionary advance, but also periods of tiredness, defeat and even reaction. But the general tendency was in the direction of revolution. It will be the same in Iran. Despite all setbacks, the general line is now in the ascendant. Every blow of the counter-revolution will only serve to stimulate a new revolutionary upsurge. The masses will learn in the school of hard experience.
They will also begin to understand the real nature of the "reformers". Khatami’s treacherous role in the July uprising was shown when he spoke on the national television, saying that the government would put down the riots with an iron hand as it threatened Iran’s national security and reformist policies. The next day Khatami accused the student leaders of "attacking the foundation of the regime and of wanting to foment tension, and disorder" in a message issued after his meeting with a top security chief.
Iran’s Supreme leader on Friday blamed the "hidden hands" of the US Central Intelligence Agency for July’s anti-regime demonstration, saying Washington had tried to repeat the 1953 coup that restored the pro-western monarchy. Out of fear of the mass revolutionary movement, Khatami the "reformist" united with Khomeinei the hardliner, and very soon he was exposed before the conscious layer of the masses. But "nature abhors a vacuum". Again on the 18 February 1999 elections the masses voted for the reformists. This was intended as a blow against the mullahs and their totalitarian establishment. The reformists, with their customary demagogy, put forward the demands for liberty, press freedom and reforms. The politically untutored masses were still hoping that Khatami will do as he promises. But this temporary mood of hope will soon be dissipated as the masses contrast words with deeds. The election of the reformers is an unavoidable stage in the process of the revolutionary maturing of the masses who learn not from books but only from experience. And the experience will not be a pleasant one.
The present reformist government’s room for manoeuvre is very limited. The recent $2.1 trillion market crash is a warning of the extreme instability of the world economy. At a certain stage the present boom in the USA will end in a deep recession in world capitalism. This will mean a sharp deflation in demand and a consequent collapse in the price of oil and other raw materials, which will seriously aggravate the crisis of the Iranian economy. Haid Sevati, a professor of politics at Teheran University, described the situation thus: "The economy is in pretty bad shape people are going to expect this parliament to organise itself and deal with the economic issues. So far it is been all politics. The reformists are going to be in a majority. People are going to start asking them to do a serious job. President Khatami will be in a difficult position in the sense of having to actually deliver on some of the main promises that have been made. The honeymoon period is going to start eroding."
Alan Woods comments: "After 20 years the masses are tired of the rule of the mullahs. Originally, Ayatollah Khomeini promised a pure and incorruptible Islamic regime, free from all exploitation and the pernicious influences of the West. But corruption is an inseparable companion to any bureaucratic regime. The bureaucracy of the mullahs was no exception. Indeed Iran is now one of the most corrupt countries on earth. The mullahs, particularly the middle layers, have cheerfully given themselves over to theft, swindling and bribery on a massive scale. The enrichment of the regime’s supporters (who evidently cannot wait for the blessings of a future life in paradise) are in stark contrast to the growing impoverishment of the workers and peasants. The contrast between rich and poor is all the more galling because of the propaganda of the regime with its constant appeals to solidarity. The contrast between words and deeds, between theory and practice, repels and disgusts all honest people and creates a general mood of frustration and suppressed anger.
"In the past, Iran’s great oil wealth guaranteed a certain stability. The regime made concessions to the masses in the form of health, education and other services. Infant mortality fell from 104 per thousand in the mid-seventies to 25 per thousand in the mid-nineties. Life expectancy in the same period rose from 55 to 68. There are one million students in higher education, of whom 40 percent are women. But a disproportionate amount of the country’s wealth went to enriching the mullahs and their hangers-on. The Economist (18 February 1997) described the attitude of educated Iranians:
"All very well, say discontented Iranians. So now we have roads and telecommunications, mechanised farms and primary schools, health centres and birth control, not to mention village women who are asserting themselves. But this is no more than our due as an oil-rich country with an ancient history, a glorious culture and a well-educated elite, geographically placed at the centre of one of the world’s most strategic regions. We are not a third-world out-of-the way dump, to be patronised by western newcomers. We want more than that…
"Fine they say, that the regime appropriated most of the wealth of the Shah’s old cronies, a new-rich class just as greedy and corrupt as the old aristocrats. Real incomes have shrunk savagely, particularly for the disappearing middle classes. With a teacher’s pay barely covering the rent of a room, day-to-day living relies on dodgy improvisation.
"The average take-home pay is not enough to cover the average family’s food bill, and most people are forced to work in more than one job to make ends meet. Often a man has to take two or three extra jobs to survive. A university lecturer earns 500,000 rials ($110 at the official rate) but would need to do some additional tuition or research. A retired army general gets 170,000 rials a month. A primary schoolteacher starts at a miserable 120,000 rials (about $25). How can anyone live on these wages? And annual inflation is about 27 percent.
"The world crisis of capitalism reflected itself in the collapse of oil and other commodity prices last year. Although the price of oil has since risen by 80 percent (for how long is another matter) it caused serious problems for all oil producing countries. The Iranian economy is now in crisis, with high inflation and unemployment, low investor confidence. The hated foreign debt stood at around $25 billion in 1997. Eighty-six percent of Iran’s GDP comes from the state sector and a large part of the rest is controlled by the mafia. The stench of corruption hangs over the whole economic life of the country.
"In addition, there is a steep rise in crime, the absence of personal security and many freedoms. The oppressive nature of the regime is manifested in a thousand different ways. Those who want to be students or teachers are interrogated to see if they and their families respect Islamic values. The system is heavily weighted against women. A female student may be expelled if she is caught laughing with an unrelated man. This is supposed to represent a sensuous invitation to sin! The suffocating regime of the Mullahs which interferes in all aspects of life, big and small, would be bad enough in itself. But when everyone is aware that the clergy is corrupt and rotten to the marrow, it becomes utterly intolerable.
"This is not what the people fought and died for in 1979. The disillusionment of the students was commented on two years ago in a special report in the Economist (18 February 1997).
"When a first year arrives in a college, says a lecturer, half the students are ready to lay down their lives for the revolution. By the second year, they have doubts, by the third, they are mildly critical, by the fourth, they are in outright opposition.
"Sixty-five percent of the people of Iran are under are under 25, and they know little of the revolution and Iran’s eight year’s war with Iraq. In vain does the regime try to appeal to the spirit of the war and martyrdom. The time for such speeches is long past. The youth of Iran will no longer tolerate empty rhetoric and speeches. They want jobs and freedom. The youthfulness of these new layers, coming fresh into the struggle, unencumbered with the dead weight of routine and tradition, is what gives the movement its extraordinary sweep and �lan. Above all, these students feel that they are not along, but speak in the name of the people July. The people live in misery! The clerics are acting like gods was one of the slogans chanted by the students on the July demonstrations."
The role of the working class
In the 1979 revolution the working class was the backbone of the revolutionary movement against the Shah’s regime. The workers’ nation-wide strikes dealt the most decisive blows against the shah’s regime. The workers’ shuras sprang up out of the continuous strike waves after mid-1978. The 1979 revolutionary period provided the richest experience for the workers. Their direct intervention in the arena of politics was the decisive element in the whole equation. The heritage of 1979 revolution is still a milestone for workers of Iran today, a real beacon and a point of reference in the struggle against world capitalism.
The Iranian workers’ struggle is not only decisive against the rotten fundamentalist regime in Teheran. It has a general significance for the revolutionary movement all over the Middle East. The oil workers particularly, with their colossal potential power, will be the grave digger of imperialism and the domination of multinationals such as Exxon, Mobil and Conoco. These multinationals chalk up their profits in trillions, while the mass of people in Iran and the other countries of the Middle East live in grinding poverty. Such a glaring contradiction must sooner or later be resolved by revolutionary means. And only the proletariat can do it.
The working class has never been more powerful. According to the Iranian official statistics, in 1989, the total number of workers in industries was 2.5 million, 65 percent of these workers were employed in large scale industries about 70,000 in oil and gas 45,000 in electricity, 155,000 in metal industries 133,000 in textiles, 82,000 in construction, 70,000 in the food industries, nearly 40,000 in auto industries, 40,000 in chemicals and 25,000 in the paper industry. Approximately 35,000 to 40,000 work in military industries. Around about one million women are also employed in industry. Under the fundamentalists women have suffered more then any other section of society, particularly working class women. They have no maternity rights and are obliged to work until the last days of pregnancy. Women workers played a very import role in the struggle to overthrow the shah’s regime.
During the counter-revolution, the lumpen-proletarian terrorist thugs of Khomeini’s Pasdaran crushed the shuras in the factories. After such a severe defeat the working class was naturally shocked and demoralised for a time. But within two years the class again rose up once more, demanding union rights, increases in wages, shorter working hours and opposition to the new labour laws. Already in 1983 eight big strikes occurred in different month, with the participation of more then 15,000 workers. From 1984 to January 1990, 62 big strikes took place in which more than 142,800 workers participated. In May 1990, Isfahan oil refinery workers demanded double pay for overtime. Despite 30 arrests and heavy pressure, the workers continued the strike for two weeks and secured the release of the detained strikers and a promise from the government that they would increase wages. A government delegation visited the refinery to rectify the situation. The workers made it clear to the delegation that: "It is no use telling you our demands, while we have no right to organise on the shop floor."
On 27 January 1991 the oil workers struck just as they did the year before, for wage rises and a number of other welfare demands. The strike began at the Isfahan Abadan refineries with a hunger strike and within days it spread to the refineries in Teheran and Shiraz. Their demands included:
1. Wage increase in line with inflation.
2. Clarification and rectification of the position of thousands of employees who are not covered by the labour law.
3. Implementation of job classification scheme.
4. Provision of housing and increase in housing subsidy/benefit.
In the second week of the strike on 8 February 1991 a representative of the Ministry of Labour visited the Teheran oil refinery and asked the strikers to end their strike and elect representatives to allow the government and the authorities to deal with their demands. The workers refused and demanded to see the Minister of Oil. Two days later the representative of the Ministry of Information (Security) in Teheran, referring to the crisis in the Gulf region, threatened the strikers, saying "unless they end their strike, the security forces would move in". Yet again the workers, fighting for their interests, were confronted by the state. Despite this, the strikers won most of their demands. This strike—the first all-out strike in the oil industry since the great strike of 1978-79—involved tens of thousands of oil workers.
The government was careful not to encourage other workers to follow the oil workers’ example. But it was unable to brush aside the wage issue which is the pressing demand of the whole working class in Iran. The strike forced the Iranian government (indirectly though its Supreme Council of Labour) to concede a wage rise of 36 percent across the board. The effect of the strike and the importance of the oil workers was such that the Minster of Oil would not even allow Islamic Societies—set up by the government in some of the work places—to be established in the oil industry: "The President himself was aware of this fact and on his advice, in view of the sensitivity of having political organisations in the oil industry, this issue would be considered in due course and appropriate measures, with a view to the interests of the system, would be taken."
On the 19 and 20 of August 1996, 600 Teheran oil refinery workers, mainly from the oil storage unit and central gas depot, stopped work and without prior notice, marched to the Labour House (the central body for Islamic Societies and Councils) where they protested about the non-implementation of collective agreements and the enforcement of the labour law. Oil refinery workers in Teheran, Tabriz, Shiraz and Isfahan went on a two day warning strike on 18 and 19 December 1996, demanding government recognition of collective bargaining and agreements. The two-day strike was called as a result of the government’s refusal to act on an earlier ultimatum issued in August by the oil workers. The striking workers declared that failure of the responsible Minister to act and agree to their demands would result in an-all out indefinite strike within a month. In Tabriz oil refinery the two-day strike was followed by a go-slow for three weeks. This is a most impressive record of struggle, particularly if we bear in mind that the right to strike and organisation is not recognised in Iran. Striking workers face dismissal, arbitrary arrest, execution and military occupation of the workplace. It shows that the workers, like the students, are losing their fear and are prepared to fight against all the odds. This fact constitutes the principal motor-force of the revolution in Iran. The same year on 28 February hundreds of workers rallied outside the majilis protesting against the new law passed by the Khatami government enabling employers with fewer than five staff to strip them of social security for a period of six years up to the end of the third development plan. Again on 8 March workers gathered in front of majilis in their thousands to protest against the labour law.
The biggest demonstration was on the first of May. This was the clearest indication that working class was starting to mobilise. Since 1997 the workers’ mood has been changing. They had seen the limitations of the reformists’ promises and campaigning for political and cultural freedom, free speech and social justice. The reformists only wished to use democratic reforms as a way to break the hold of the hardliners on the state and economy. However, events did not work according to plan. Trotsky argued that the democratic revolution must go over immediately to the Socialist revolution, or end in defeat and disaster. Events in Iran show the complete correctness of this view. The only way to secure a genuinely democratic regime in Iran is to sweep aside all the vacillating, cowardly and half-hearted elements and for the working class to take power into its own hands. Only the proletariat has the will and the power to make a clean sweep of the forces of reaction. But once the proletariat has power, it will not stop at the democratic tasks, but will go on to expropriate the capitalists and landlords and proceed in the direction of socialism.
The masses of the people aspire not only to democratic rights but to a higher standards of living. For the "democratic" lawyers and professional politicians, democracy is a beautiful phrase and a paper constitution. For the workers and peasants, however, formal democracy has little meaning if it does not mean a radical improvement in the material conditions of life of the great majority. This requires not merely the conquest of political democracy but also the conquest of economic democracy—a regime of workers’ democracy. Bourgeois democracy in Iran under modern conditions, with the crisis of capitalism on world scale, cannot establish itself for any length of time. It would be a regime of crisis that would inevitably end in a new and even more monstrous dictatorship and enslavement of the working people.
The workers have already learned much, and will learn even more in the course of the developing struggle. All the elements for socialist revolution are steadily maturing in Iran. The reformists can never satisfy the aspirations and needs of the working class and the peasants. In the last analysis they are the representatives of the capitalist class and finance capital—and also of imperialism, which is searching for allies in Iran who can prevent revolution and give them back their power and influence. The capitalist reformers would deliver Iran to the clutches of foreign imperialism. But in present-day conditions that would spell disaster.
In Iran we are clearly at the beginning of a new era and are seeing the rise of new social movements against the capitalist system. The atmosphere in Teheran is tense. The reactionaries have launched a harsh counter-attack on the reformists, accusing them of rigging in the elections. It is quite possible that the hardliners might dismiss the majilis. It is similar to the situation in 1977, when civil rights protests by the writers, lawyers and other defenders of freedom of speech and the press were launched against the Shah. Within two years that movement became transformed into a revolution. Business Week, commenting on Iran, stated that the second term victory aroused much hope, but has delivered nothing in the way of specifics.
Already the young are getting frustrated. In Khalkhal, a north-western city, angry demonstrators attacked government offices, a theological school and the homes of conservative clerics, after the election of a reformist Parliamentary candidate was thrown out. In Rasht, a north central city, protesters clashed with the police, who had confronted a young unmarried couple: "We told them that their days of tyranny are over."
Iran and the world revolution
Khatami represents that wing of the regime which looks to the West and capitalism for a solution. It is being quietly encouraged by the West which would prefer to install a weak and subservient (bourgeois) democratic regime in Teheran which would be more pliable than the old regime. The recent disturbances took them by surprise. The American are horrified at the prospect of revolutionary developments in Iran, which can have enormous repercussions throughout the Middle East, in Russia and even further afield. Iran occupies a strategic position in the world, not only from the standpoint of US imperialism, but also from that of world revolution.
Western countries like the United States, France, Italy, Sweden, Germany and other western countries hastily voiced their support and "sympathy" for the "reformist" Khatami, recognising in him their best bet to install a more congenial regime in Teheran. But the Student movement has upset all their plans and calculations. Understanding the revolutionary potential of the movement—which represents a mortal danger to them in one of the most important areas in the world—they hastened to call on him to make concessions and "satisfy" the students demands. But the leverage of imperialism in Teheran is extremely limited and their pleas went unheard. Horrified, the imperialists had to watch as the situation spiralled out of control. They undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief when the reaction reasserted control. But they are under no illusions that this situation can not last.
The magnificent revolution of 1979 showed the world the heroism of the Iranian working class. The Shah’s regime was equipped with the most awesome means of repression. At his back stood a huge army and a ruthless and efficient secret police, the Savak. Some people drew the conclusion that the state was too powerful to overthrow by direct revolutionary action of the proletariat. Instead they played with the discredited tactics of Maoism and guerrillaism. Life itself showed the falseness of these arguments. The supposedly invincible state machine of the Shah was shattered in pieces once the working class began to move. The Iranian revolution was a classical proletarian revolution which was aborted for lack of leadership and hijacked by the only group that was organised, determined and knew what it wanted—the mullahs. Thus, the greatest revolution of the second half of the 20th century ended up as a reactionary theocratic state. This was the greatest abortion in the history of revolutions. And it was entirely unnecessary.
The Iranian proletariat in 1979 was far stronger than the Russian working class in 1917. It could easily have taken power into its hands. But it lacked the necessary instrument in the form of a genuinely revolutionary party and leadership, like the Bolshevik party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. The Iranian workers set up the shuras, which were the equivalent of the Russian soviets in 1917—democratically elected committees composed of workers, students, shopkeepers, peasants and soldiers. All that was necessary was to have linked up these committees on a local, regional and national scale, and broaden them to include the representatives of the poor peasants, the soldiers, the women, the youth and the oppressed nationalities, and the problem would have been very quickly solved. The overthrow of the Shah could have led directly to the establishment of workers’ power. But the so-called Communist Party, the Tudeh, had no perspective of taking power. The Moscow Bureaucracy dreaded the prospect of a workers’ revolution in Iran. The Iranian Stalinist leaders blindly subordinated themselves to, first to the Liberals and so-called progressives, and ultimately to Khomeini. Thus in the movement of truth, the Iranian working class found itself paralysed and incapable of playing an independent role. The revolution was aborted and the people of Iran delivered into the hands of clerical reaction.
But now the wheel has turned a full circle. The regime of the Ayatollahs has exhausted itself and now faces revolution, just as the Shah did. This idea is already present in the minds of the students who at this moment are in the vanguard. The real revolutionary significance of the student movement has not been lost on the most serious commentators in the West. The movement has gone far beyond the limits prescribed by the "moderate" leaders. The Boston Globe Online (7 December 1999) commented:
"It has already become evident that students are not risking beatings and death merely to show support for the marginal reforms of Iran’s elected president. Mohammad Khatami. He has issued a statement saying that the protesters have made their point and ‘now students should co-operate with the government and allow law and order to be established in society’."
These are the first confused stirrings of revolutionary consciousness. The actions of the students are far more advanced than their political understanding. But under these conditions people learn fast. Consciousness lags behind, but it is the essence of a revolution that consciousness catches up with reality with a bang. A whole generation of youth have had little or no knowledge of Marxism. Their sole point of reference was the so-called Islamic revolution of 1979. It was natural that some of the students refer to Islam. But serious commentators are able to distinguish between form and content. The reference to religion are only "the outer shell of an immature Bolshevism". The students compare the theory of a pure and incorruptible Islamic republic with the reality of a corrupt dictatorship of mullahs who have robbed, deceived and cheated the Iranian people for two decades. The Boston Globe continues:
"The slogans of the protesters suggest they are passing beyond calls for limited reforms. When officials attempted to read to the demonstrators a statement from the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, students drowned out Khamenei’s messengers, shouting: "Down with the dictator!" and "Either Islam and the law or another revolution".
This movement of the youth is an real inspiration. But the students alone can never triumph against the monstrous state of the mullahs. It is imperative that they link up with the oppressed masses—the workers, peasants and urban poor—who are growing restless under the heavy hand of clerical reaction. It is also necessary to fight for the complete social and legal emancipation of women-that section of society which has had to bear the heaviest burden under the tyranny of the mullahs. The women of Iran are destined to play a key role in the coming revolution. Already a very important development was the magnificent participation of the women who played a very active role in the demonstration in Teheran, and were everywhere at the forefront of demonstrations. It is also necessary to defend the democratic rights of the Kurds and other oppressed nationalities in Iran.
But with a programme that confines itself to demands for formal democracy, this is impossible. Of course, it is necessary to fight for every democratic demand-for freedom of assembly, the right to demonstrate and strike, the right to organise, for free and democratic elections and the convening of a constituent assembly etc. But this is not enough. It is necessary to put forward a programme of social and economic demands which reflect the needs of the workers and peasants. A job for all! A living wage and decent pensions! For the seven hour working day! For decent schools and hospitals for all! For a crash programme of house building! For a socialist plan of production, under the democratic control of the working people!
In order to put this programme into practice, it is necessary to set up democratically elected committees of workers. Committees of action must be formed to organise the struggle against the regime and give it a conscious expression. The students can play a vital role in this if they organise around the revolutionary programme of Marxism and link their struggle with the working class. They must avoid the temptation to resort to the senseless tactics of individual terrorism and so-called guerrillaism which have led to disaster in the past. Not terrorism but organised revolutionary work in the factories, in the schools, in the workers’ districts-that is the only way to prepare for the inevitable battles that impend
Above all it is necessary to form an organisation of cadres, educated in the ideas of Marxism-Leninism. And it is necessary to see that the Iranian revolution can only succeed if it inscribes on its banner an internationalist perspective. That was always the position of Lenin and the Bolshevik party. Iran occupies a key position. A revolution in Iran would send shock waves throughout the world. We already saw that in a distorted way after 1979, when the Iranian revolution-unfortunately hijacked and distorted by clerical reaction-gave a powerful impulse to so-called Islamic fundamentalism everywhere. This led to a dead end, as we see clearly, not only in Iran but in Afghanistan, Algeria and elsewhere.
The alternative to imperialism and capitalism is not fundamentalism but socialist revolution and proletarian internationalism. The second Iranian revolution will have an entirely different content and character to the first. The imperialists can see this and dread it. They understand that the whole of the Middle East is hanging by a thread. There is not one single stable bourgeois regime in that part of the globe. A revolution in Iran would cause these weak and corrupt regimes to fall like skittles. A successful socialist revolution in Iran would cause shock waves throughout the Middle East, in Russia, in the Indian Subcontinent. It would undermine the reactionary Taliban regime in neighbouring Afghanistan. Its repercussions would be felt in Asia, Africa and Latin America. And not only there. The example of a healthy regime of workers’ democracy in Iran would have an even greater effect on the workers of Europe, Japan and the United States than did the Russian revolution of 1917. It could change the course of world history. Everything depends on the ability of the advanced guard of the Iranian workers and students to create the necessary instrument for carrying out the revolution to the end.
The outcome of the current political struggle in Iran is inextricably linked to the actions of the working class, which will determine the fate of society. The temporary phase of disorientation and disappointment which was the result of the Stalinist betrayal in 1979-80, is now coming to an end. Likewise, the fumes of fundamentalist intoxication have completely dissipated. We are now witnessing the beginning of the end of the monstrous regime established by Khomeini’s counter-revolution. The submission to, and acceptance of, fundamentalism is ending. The masses are thinking for themselves, discussing and trying to find an alternative course. Neither fundamentalism nor bourgeois democracy can offer any way out. The only road only for the masses is the road of struggle for the emancipation of the working people. This is the only banner that can enthuse and galvanise the new generations, particularly of the youth, the oppressed nationalities and the women, to fight and conquer. The future lies in the victory of the workers, the Socialist revolution which will not stop at the borders of Iran, but will light a fire that will cause a conflagration throughout the Middle East and far beyond. That is what stands at the top of the agenda at the dawn of the 21st century.
1. Ted Grant, On the Iranian revolution, February 1979, London.
2. The Economist, 29 April 2000.
4. Alan Woods, The First Shots of Iranian Revolution, 17 July 1999, London.
5. The Daily Dawn, 13 July 1999.
6. The Gulf News, 14 July 1999.
7. International Herald Tribune, 1 August 1999.
8. Socialist Appeal, April 2000 issue 78, London.
9. Alan Woods, The First Shots of the Iranian Revolution.
10. Iran Radio, November 1989.
11. Alan Woods, The First Shots of the Iranian Revolution.
12. Kayhan Daily, 28th February 2000.
13. Business Week, 8th May 2000.
14. Alan Woods, The First Shots of the Iranian Revolution.
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