Iran: revolutionary youth movement endures

26 October marked 40 days since the murder of the Iranian-Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, by the regime’s morality police. Being the final day of the traditional Shia mourning period, it was met with massive protests, becoming a new highpoint of the movement, with protests in nearly every major city. In many Kurdish towns, a general strike broke out; across the country, bazaari strikes were held in support of the movement; and in Tehran Metro conductors went on strike in support of the revolutionary youth. 

In many major cities, barricades have been set up. The usual slogans of “Death to dictators”, “Women, life and freedom”, “Freedom, freedom, freedom”, “Death to the tyrants – be they Shah or Supreme leader”, and others continue. Protests continued throughout Thursday across Iran, but especially in Teheran, Saqqez, Sandandaj and Mahabad. Funerals of the martyrs from Wednesday especially in Mahabad have turned into mass rallies and only stoked anger of the masses.

Wednesday saw a general strike in many Kurdish towns and cities. In Saqqez, Mahsa’s hometown, the population effectively deserted the main town to join a mass procession to gather around her grave. The march to her grave turned into a mass demonstration. As we have seen a number of times already, in many Kurdish towns including Mahabad, Saqqez and Sananadaj, the masses drove out the security forces and clashes have broken out over attempts to reconquer these areas.

Across Iran, students have defied the regime’s occupations of universities, which temporarily suppressed many student strikes and rallies in the past weeks. Clashes have broken out between security forces firing tear-gas and bullets, and the students in and around the universities and dormitories. In many cases, the security forces have been overwhelmed and driven out of the universities.

This new escalation of the movement has broken out despite harsher repression by the regime, with 252 confirmed dead and 1,011 arrested, according to a report from 25 October. Mahabad, Saqqez and Sanandaj have been under heavy occupation by the security forces in the past week. Across Iran, Basij youth paramilitaries and other forces occupied universities and stormed dormitories, arresting and beating up students. 

Now it seems once again the youth have broken through the latest offensive. The movement is taking clear, qualitative steps towards becoming better organised, but is yet to take on a form that can seriously threaten the regime. The regime is stepping up repression continuously, security forces are already recapturing towns and neighbourhoods. In Isfahan, the regime shot into a crowd, killing over 20; and on Wednesday, in Tabriz alone, 600 youths were arrested. But so far, these measures have not been able to stem the tide of the protests. 

The youth shout: “Don’t call it a protest – call it a revolution”

It is often the case that the most militant part of the class struggle can be found amongst the youth. This was the case during the 1979 Iranian Revolution and this is the case today. Despite all the horrors they have faced, the youth protests constantly persist, their slogans have become revolutionary, and youth themselves refer to the ongoing movement as a revolution.

Student flyers Image Sar khatismStudents have been recognising the need for organisation, forming coalitions and issuing flyers / Image: Sar khatism

With enormous bravery and revolutionary fervour, the youth have often managed to overwhelm security forces and push them out of towns or neighbourhoods in the major cities. But the fact that the youth have yet to draw in the broad sections of the working class and poor onto the scene has allowed the regime to continuously regroup and launch new offensives. True, the movement has learned from these experiences and become better organised, but there is a limit to this constant back-and-forth cycle. The movement must inflict a decisive blow on the regime, before fatigue sets in.

Under the impact of events, the movement is becoming conscious of the limitations of its present methods and seeing the need for organisation. Various youth organisations have been founded, and they are actively agitating for a general strike. For example, Wednesday’s protests in Tehran were called by a student group in a joint statement from six major universities. In Tabriz, a student coalition has been formed, which has issued flyers starting on the weekend; and in Isfahan a group of progressive students has taken on the same role.

In the Kurdish towns of Marivian, Mahhbad and Sandandaj, we have seen the formation of revolutionary youth councils. These councils are inspired by the neighbourhood and workers’ councils of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which played a key role in overthrowing the Shah’s regime. During the previous wave of general strikes, attempts were made to form workers' councils, but these seem to have been unsuccessful in face of repression by the regime.  

The Kurdish revolutionary youth councils have made multiple statements addressing the entire movement, calling for these methods to spread across Iran. The revolutionary youth council of Sanandaj wrote the following: 

“Now is the time to turn our networks of communication and our links, which are the achievements of our struggles in this period, into a more-evolved organisation. Now is the time to think about creating neighbourhood committees and councils, and student councils in universities and in schools. Our call to other parts of the society is to form workplace and neighbourhood committees and councils. Whether these forms of organisation are clandestine or open, is up to the balance of power, which can be determined by revolutionary youth and freedom-loving people locally. The council movement and the effort to create it gives our movement such strength that, along with the courage and sacrifices of the youth and the people, encourages the hope of victory, makes repression harder for the oppressors, and lowers the cost of the struggle.”

The formation of youth councils is a very important step forward in itself, but the statement goes further, emphasising the necessity of leadership and organisations:

“The creation of these councils will help the scattered struggles of the youth to become more coordinated, to develop a programme, to develop plans and to choose certain tactics. These immediate and effective measures, in addition to providing the youth movement with order, direction and planning, will also prevent individual mistakes and will also increase the confidence of those fighting on the streets and prevent wasted efforts. In addition, taking a lead in this manner, increasing the level of organisation and developing a distinct leadership, will increase the confidence of different social strata in the youth and provide the basis and possibility for them to join the movement. The local youth organisations will be able to mobilise the neighbourhood residents for struggle. The urban youth organisations make it possible to mobilise the residents of the city. This issue also applies in universities, schools, and other areas, and it draws a larger force of students and other parts of the society into a coordinated struggle. We insist that all young people unite and coordinate in a single movement, with a single organisation, leadership and plan in neighbourhoods, universities and high schools, and form a single front.

“We must try to enter the organising phase immediately, after a month of effort and sacrifice that has changed the balance of forces in society. Organising is not easier than street protests. This work requires a huge effort, the task of which is placed on the shoulders of more experienced, organised and knowledgeable youth. Friends and comrades! The revolutionary movement of the Iranian people has entered a new stage. Today, in addition to the unwavering support of militant teachers of the National Coordination Council, we are witnessing labour strikes in the south and in the key sectors of oil and petrochemicals, Haft Tappeh workers, fuel lorry drivers, etc. We hope that other sections of the working class and workers in the transport and urban services sector will join the nationwide revolutionary movement. Undoubtedly, the joining of different parts of the labour movement to this revolutionary uprising contains the promise of advance and victory.”

It must be added that leadership is not only needed locally, but also nationally to coordinate for a common struggle against the regime. Already, these youth organisations have linked together, issuing joint calls for protests, such as on Saturday, when the revolutionary youth councils of Saqqez, Marivan, Sanandaj, the progressive youth of Isfahan and Tabriz Student Coalition issued the following statement: 

“To all freedom-loving men and women of Iran! The students, workers, students and revolutionary youth do not mourn for their dead, they continue their struggle.

“We, the youth and the fighting people of Iran, join this protest in order to:

  • Protest the killing in Sistan-Baluchistan;
  • Protest the bloody massacre of Evin;
  • Protest the brutal attack on the children of Shahid Ardabil School, the killing and wounding of female student prisoners, and other arrests of children;
  • Protest the militarisation of the cities in Kurdistan; 
  • Protest the repeated arrests of political activists, teachers, youth and even schoolchildren;
  • Protest threats, warnings, arrests and attacks on university students.

“We must respond to the limitless crimes of the oppressors in forms of a general strike, school closures, teachers' protest rallies, street and neighbourhood rallies and protests.

“Our promise is to march in step, and speak with one voice, with the students of the universities, at the same time as other protests across Iran on Saturday [22 October], with protests and strikes throughout Kurdistan.”

The protests called for last weekend were overwhelmed by the security forces, with the exception of Tabriz, Mahhabad and some other Kurdish-majority towns. However, based on this experience, more systematic methods and a persistent campaign for protests on Wednesday was prepared. Local groups made calls for protests on social media, leaflets were distributed and walls were covered with slogans.

Where is the general strike?

As we have stated before, while the youth have shown enormous revolutionary bravery and will to sacrifice, they are not, on their own, able to overthrow the regime. The most important element for such an outcome is the entrance of the working class onto the scene. 

From the start of the movement, militant workers’ organisations have threatened a political general strike, including truck drivers, the Council for Organising Protests of Oil Contract Workers, the Haft Tappeh workers, the Tehran Bus Company workers, the Teachers’ Coordinating Committee, among others. A real general strike would transform the protests into a revolution and completely overwhelm the security forces. 

All political strikes so far have either been warning strikes, lasting at most a couple of days, or short-lived, being repressed by the regime. The petrochemical strike centred in Bushehr province has been repressed, with over 250 workers arrested and security forces attacking the workers and occupying their workplaces. The Abadan Phase 2 refinery strike continued until Sunday, but was isolated and the workers feared a similar fate, so the strike was stopped. These strikes were a massive inspiration for the entire movement, but within less than a week were completely suppressed. 

The teachers’ coordinating committee strike 23-24 October spread across Iran; mostly concentrated in the Kurdish towns of Sanandaj, Saqqez, Marivan, Kermanshah; but also Shiraz, Sari, Lahijan and Hamadan, among others. Even this limited warning strike, which did not even call for overthrow of the regime, was met with harsh repression. Many teachers have been arrested across Iran, and the regime has convicted some of their leading trade unionists in order to instil fear among their ranks. Despite this, they commemorated 40 days since Mahsa’s burial with following statement:

“The Coordinating Council of Trade Union Organisations of Iranian Teachers, on the 40th day of Zhenia (Mehsa) Amini’s death, in addition to expressing sympathy with her family and the freedom-loving people of Iran, once again declares its solidarity with the nationwide protests of the all of the people of Iran who are fighting for a just society. [...] The Coordinating Council of Cultural Organisations of Iran knows very well what a serious historical responsibility it bears in this sensitive period and is well aware of who are the real enemies of this nationwide solidarity and this widespread mutual sympathy.”

In the Kurdish towns and cities, the movement has gone much further. There have been multiple waves of general strikes, including by industrial workers; and together with the youth, they have repeatedly driven the regime out of their cities. But due to their isolation from the rest of the country, the regime has managed to recapture these areas, by methods akin to a civil war. This also shows the limits of a local general strike, particularly in an area without any major industries. 

Although a national general strike has not broken out, there is enormous potential for one. Besides the outpouring of the statements by the militant workers’ organisations, there is a rise in economic strikes all over the country.  

In response to escalating youth protests, the oil workers have called for a new national strike starting on saturday. It impossible to say whether this one will be more successful, but a statement by the workers says the following: 

“We are going on strike in solidarity with the people's struggle. A group of our coworkers in oil and petrochemical projects, under the title of oil and gas industry workers, has announced a campaign for a nationwide strike in the oil and gas sector in solidarity with the people's struggles and against government repression, beginning on Saturday [29 October] with a collective walkout. The organising council of the protests of oil contract workers, which demanded the release of the recently arrested and detained colleagues and all political prisoners in protest against the government's repression, and gave an ultimatum that the workers will not remain silent in the face of these conditions and announced the preparation of mass protests, joins the above campaign calling for a nationwide strike from Saturday, 29 October. The organising council calls all colleagues working in oil and oil-related centres, including all contractual and official workers and colleagues working in the operational, technical and staff departments and fuel supply drivers, and everyone else to join this nationwide strike. In this way, we oil workers working in oil centres will also go on strike with the people and with the cry of women, life of freedom, from the 29 October. 

“One immediate demand is the release of the recently arrested and detained colleagues of ours, and all political prisoners, and we shout with all our strength, ‘Political prisoners must be freed!’

“We need to stress that, unlike those calling the campaign of ‘oil and gas workers’, our oil workers' protests have nothing to do with Cyrus Day [a nationalist and monarchist day of celebration - ed] and days such as that. Our workers' protest is against poverty, discrimination, inequality and the whole scale of anti-woman and anti-worker brutality. 

“The organising council of contract workers' protests emphasises the unity and solidarity of all oil workers. May we oil workers be able to fulfill our historical role and duty with our powerful strike in order to fulfill the rightful demands of the people and bring an end oppression and slavery in the whole society.” 

The Islamic Republic understands that a general strike could topple the entire regime, therefore since the Bushehr oil workers’ strike there has been an escalation of repression against trade unionists and working-class revolutionaries. It is not due to a lack of support for the movement that a general strike hasn’t broken out, but because of a lack of a national leadership. In face of such repression, the few political strikes are incredibly courageous, but in isolation are inevitably doomed.

What is necessary is for the youth and militant workers to unite and build the backbone of a national revolutionary general strike of revolutionary councils or cells, and to campaign for a general strike on the foundation of a revolutionary programme, which incorporates the demands of the workers. 

Death to the tyrants – death to capitalism!

The Western imperialists and their Pahlavi puppets are exploiting the lack of leadership to pursue their own cynical interests, feigning support to the Iranian masses. The Pahlavis, the dynasty overthrown by the 1979 Iranian Revolution, have appointed themselves representatives of the Iranian masses. This has only helped the propaganda of the Islamic Republic to paint the entire movement as the result of a foreign intervention.  

The influence of the monarchists in Iran must not be exaggerated. The cynical, hypocritical support of the imperialists has been met with disgust by workers and the youth alike. Foriegn-backed Persian news outlets continue to suppress the incredibly popular slogan: “Death to the tyrants – be they the Shah or Supreme Leader”. Even school students in response tore up images of the Shah, alongside side images of Khamenei.  

The militant Haft Tappeh workers have gone further, making a statement in the true spirit of proletarian internationalism in response to the President of Israel saying “our hearts are with the people of Iran”:

“You yourself, are at the head of a criminal government! How is your heart with us? We protest against repression, crime, poverty and exploitation in our country. You are doing the same thing against the Palestinians and against the working class in your own country. Where are we and where are you?

“You know very well that we are not only against one or two people, we are against an entire system and regime. The officials at the head of the same system in Sistan, Tehran, Kurdistan, Mazandaran, Gilan and Khuzestan are shooting at the protesting people, and you are also at the head of the same cruel system and kill the Palestinian people. We have a fundamental conflict with you. We are in conflict with the entire system of exploitation, oppression, crime, discrimination, poverty, and the entirety of this class system, whether it is in Iran, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, England, America, Russia, China, etc.

“Please do not use such disgusting brown-nosing and deception. We do not need the support of oppressors. We don't need your support, we don't need the support of the heads of America, Russia, China, England, France, etc.

“We are the working class, the wage labourers and by uniting ourselves at the national level and by uniting with other workers in other countries, we will uproot all of you!”

In the absence of a working-class leadership, the Pahlavis try to present themselves as the only alternative to the regime. This has sown much confusion, causing many people to refrain from openly supporting the movement for fear that the downfall of the regime will lead to a new imperialist-supported puppet regime being installed. But whether they wear crowns or turbans, if they are backed by the imperialists or not, the capitalist class is incapable of leading Iranian society out of its present dead end. 

What is needed is the building of a truly revolutionary leadership and organisation, based on a revolutionary programme that breaks with both the imperialists and regime. Such a programme would link the economic and democratic demands with the need for a break with Iranian capitalism altogether. Only by taking their destinies into their own hands and breaking with this sick system via a socialist revolution, can the Iranian masses achieve true freedom from the neverending cycle of capitalist exploitation and oppression.

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