Iran: Uneasy peace prepares the battles of the future

The new edition of the Iranian Marxist journal, Mobareze Tabaghati, is now out, and the PDF can be downloaded here. Here we provide an English translation of the Editorial dealing with the economic crisis and its impact on the masses. Although the 2009 movement has receded, a new wave of struggle on a higher level is inevitably being prepared.

New Mobareze Tabaghati 9 is out now! click on the picture for the PDF edition of the paper.New Mobareze Tabaghati 9 is out now! click on the picture for the PDF edition of the paper.Enormous contradictions are mounting within Iranian society. The economic crisis is weighing heavily on the shoulders of the Iranian masses. Poverty, unemployment and, most devastatingly, inflation, are eating their way into the stomachs of the millions. Frustration and desperation have reached new heights and society is like a powder keg waiting to explode.

Yet, in spite of this tense atmosphere, the Green Movement, once seen by millions as the breaking of a new dawn, is struggling to connect with the mood on the streets and in the factories. The demonstrations on 25 Bahman [15 February] this year were a long way from the mass movements that flooded the streets of Tehran in the summer, fall and winter of 88 [2009].

Still, while the movement has suffered a defeat, it is visibly evident that the regime is weaker than ever and incapable of solving even the smallest problems of society. The chronic divisions that have surfaced within the regime are an indication that it is struggling to keep a stable social base within society. As long as the ferment within the masses does not find a proper outlet the present situation can continue. But revolution is once more brewing just below the surface and a small spark could ignite a revolutionary wildfire, the likes of which Iran has never seen.

Falling living standards

The imposition of sanctions by America has exacerbated and deepened the contradictions that the sick Iranian economy has suffered from for years and has pushed it into an acute crisis. The rial has plunged, raising the price of imports for the economy and making it difficult to find Dubai-based middlemen who can process payments to keep the country’s trade flowing.

During President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's March 2 trip to Lorestan province, in western Iran, the protesters weren't waving green banners -- at least not the ones that the official ISNA photographer appears to have inadvertently snapped. A purple sign held up by one young man reads, "Swear to God, we've come to a breaking point from all the discrimination and injustice."  During a tour of Ahmadinejad in Lorestan people had brought signs that were not exactly uncritical. This one reads: "Swear to God, we've come to a breaking point from all the discrimination and injustice." The pace of factory closures has picked up and the non-payment of wages is today a phenomenon that reaches into the heart of the state apparatus. Bread and rice now make up the bulk of the the diet of most people, many of whom can no longer afford to buy meat, now selling for about $30 a kilogram in Tehran. Bread prices have tripled in the last two months, while rice costs about $5 per kg.

Of the 7.5 million production workers in Iran, approximately 80% are on the minimum wage of 330,000 toman ($270) a month [1 toman = 10 rial]. According to the Iran Centre of Statistics, the average income of every Iranian is $4400 a year ($366 a month). The most optimistic calculations, however, put the poverty line at 800,000 tomans ($655) a month.

In a poll made by Gallup almost half of Iranians (48%) now say there were times in the past year when they did not have enough money to buy food their families needed, more than tripling the 15% who said so in 2005. Forty-eight per cent also currently report there were times in the past year when they didn't have enough money to provide adequate housing for themselves or their families, up from 29% in 2005.

These economic problems are also affecting the everyday mood of Iranians. A majority (55%) say they experienced worries for much of the previous day, up from 38% when Gallup last surveyed in Iran in February-March 2011. Similarly, almost half of Iranians (47%) say they felt angry during a lot of the previous day, compared with slightly more than one-third (35%) a year ago. The poll was carried out between December 16, 2011 and January 10, 2012, which means that it did not take into account the sharp fall in the price of the rial (and consequently also the sharp rise in inflation) since then.

The Green Movement

While the plight of the masses has been worsening, it could seem that there has been an almost inverted relationship between this and the mass movement that arose after the elections of 88 [2009].

25 of Bahman [February 15th] saw yet another call by the leaders of the Green Movement and other opposition forces for people to come out on the streets in protest against dictatorship in Iran. Thousands of the most courageous, self-sacrificing and revolutionary young men and women spread this call to every single neighbourhood and did their utmost to mobilize for it. But the size and atmosphere of the protests were far from the massive revolutionary explosions that we witnessed in the months from the 88 [2009] elections and until the day of Ashura the same year.

While the tens of thousands tried in the most heroic manner, to keep the momentum alive, the reality is dawning that the movement as a mass phenomenon has receded – in fact it would be true to say that it has suffered a defeat. It is becoming clear to many that a mass movement cannot go on indefinitely without moving forward.

The mass movement that erupted in the aftermath of the 88 [2009] presidential elections was the most powerful movement Iran has seen since the 1979 revolutions. Although beginning with the simple slogans of “where is my vote?” it was clear that the movement would not and could not remain at that level. Within a week the main slogan had changed to “death to the dictator”, this showed the underlying currents behind the movement as opposed to the immediate “accidental” ones such as the electoral fraud organised by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. As we said at that time, that movement was the beginning of a revolution. In fact, at its peak on the day of Ashura, it assumed a clearly insurrectionary character.

But why did it not develop into a full blown and successful revolution? The main answer is clear. The movement did not manage decisively to draw in the most powerful force in society, the working class. All the experience of the Arab revolutions clearly shows what a difference the entrance of the workers onto the scene of the revolution can make. In those countries where the workers have moved decisively (i.e. Egypt and Tunisia where general strikes erupted in the last days of Mubarak and Ben Ali) the dictatorships have fallen. But in those countries where the working class has not been drawn into the movement as an independent force (i.e. Syria and Libya) it has met major obstacles.

At the same time, the Iranian regime, because of its peculiar origins, the world boom in capitalism until recently and the high oil prices of the last 10 years, has been able to keep a certain social base in society – a base that is composed not only of the forces of the state apparatus but also of the most backward layers in the towns and in the countryside that it uses to lean on against the mass movement.

To overthrow such a regime decisive action is needed. One cannot limit oneself to demonstrations. To achieve victory, a mass uprising in the cities, as well as a general strike was needed. But why did the workers not participate? Because the leadership of the movement fell into the hands of Mousavi and Karroubi, both men who come from within the present regime, and therefore had no interest in formulating a programme that could appeal to the workers.

Of course democratic demands are important in mobilizing a movement against dictatorship, but to draw the working class into the struggle it is necessary also to also put forward social and economic demands on such questions as jobs, wages, housing and conditions at work, etc. By refusing to do this, the liberal reformists managed in effect to divert the movement along purely liberal democratic lines with no attraction for the workers.

It is true that, on these questions, there was at all times a struggle between the top layers of the movement and the rank and file which were mainly composed of the university youth. But in this struggle the top Reformists around the parliament and the state – who are but a faction of the ruling elite – emerged victorious and managed to hijack the movement and lead it into “safe” channels.

The result was that the movement rarely went beyond raising democratic demands and the few times it did – notably on the day of Ashura of 88 [2009] – there was not the leadership present to issue the call for the overthrow of the regime.

What kind of defeat

The fact that the Reformist clique managed to pacify the movement meant that it was basically handed over to the counter-revolution on a plate. In the past year the mass of people that was gathered around the movement have withdrawn and thousands of young men and women have been imprisoned. The period of revolution has been replaced with a period of reaction, but what kind of reaction is it?

Although the regime came out of the battle victorious, the fact is that it has never been weaker than it is now. The thrust of the movement succeeded in opening a deep divide within the camp of the Principlists who are now locked in a bitter internal struggle.

At the same time the economic crisis is drawing new layers into the arena of struggle. This is undermining the regime’s social base, and further widening the divisions within it. Thousands of workers and poor are being propelled into struggle. Only recently the workers of the Mahshahr Petrochemical complex won a partial victory after almost a year of struggle. In many other places strikes and protests have been picking up and also starting to affect medium-sized and large production units.

These are not factors that can guarantee peace for the regime, but quite contrary. The revival of a revolutionary movement is inevitable in these conditions. How soon it will re-emerge or whether it will again take the form of the Green Movement is not clear, but what is clear is that it will be on a far higher level and drawing in far broader layers.

It would be wrong to compare this defeat to the defeat of the 57 [1979] revolution. Firstly, for that revolution to be finally crushed it did not take one defeat, but a series of defeats over 10 years where at least the four of those years were full blown revolutionary periods – a situation we only saw glimpses of in 88 [2009]. Secondly, the defeat of the 57 [1979] revolution came at a period where a whole revolutionary period that had begun in 1968 with the May revolution in France was coming to an end. All over the world the proletariat was in retreat.

However, today we are only in the early beginnings of a revolutionary period that will last for years. Although we must understand the limitations of historical analogies, the present situation could be compared more to the defeat of the 1905 revolution in Russia.

Because of the weakness of the Russian proletariat – which was an extremely small and young working class – and the weakness of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party – which was just beginning to reach the masses – the revolution was defeated in the years 1906-7. But what was later shown to be correct was that the 1905 revolution was merely an anticipation of the 1917 revolution where the Bolshevik party took power.

The 1905 revolution also started out as a bourgeois democratic movement around an accidental figure, father Gapon (who was in fact a police spy). However, due to the energetic intervention of the Russian Social-Democrats [Marxists] they managed to first win over the best elements of the movement and later on the masses. This was the historical achievement of the 1905 revolution, that it prepared and organised the armies for the October revolution.

In the same manner the movement of 1388 [2009] was an anticipation of far bigger and deeper revolutionary explosions that are being prepared in Iran in the future. The main problem in 88 [2009] was, and continues to be, the question of the leadership. Trotsky wrote in 1938 that “the world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat”. Those words could not be truer today.

Had there been a Bolshevik cadre organisation of a few hundred people in Iran in 1388 [2009] it could have become a mass force by now and possibly have decided the destiny of the revolution. But the task of building such a party is what we have before us.

None of the contradictions of Iranian society have been solved; on the contrary, they have all been exacerbated. The masses are in a desperate situation and the future is looking even bleaker. At the same time the regime is in a hopeless crisis. All of this inevitably prepares revolutionary explosions in the future.

A new period of sharp class struggle will open sooner or later that will shake Iran to its foundations. The Marxists can play a decisive role in such events. If we have built an organisation beforehand, firmly grounded in the ideas of Marxism and orientated towards the masses, it is possible for a small group to grow rapidly in a relatively short period of time. But for that to happen we must build now. Join Mobareze Tabaghati and prepare for the future battles against reaction and the system of capitalism which spawns it.