Today we start the publication of a document on the perspectives for the Iranian revolution. Note: This document was written in September last year. Important developments have taken place since then and the document should be read keeping that in mind. See articles published February 11, February 16 and February 18.
For years many leftist intellectuals and even some so-called Marxists had written off, in words or in deeds, any chance of a genuine revolutionary movement in Iran and the Middle East. For them the “hegemony” of Islamic fundamentalism overshadowed everything else. In adopting this stance they not only revealed their utter lack of confidence in and contempt for the masses – who they considered as mere pawns in the hands of this or that faction – but also showed their complete lack of understanding of the laws governing society and the movement of the masses.
The answer to these people was given, not by the Marxists, but by the masses of Iran who in the summer of 2009 started to take their destiny into their own hands. What we witnessed after the elections was the beginning of a revolution, i.e. an open struggle that can only lead to the settling of the question of power in the most raw and irreconcilable form. The thrust of the masses has upset all the balances within the ruling elite, as they begin to play an active role in the sphere of power, that is, politics.
Just as the act of workers organizing to halt production is called industrial action, the process of a living struggle for power between the different social classes is called a revolution. And just as a union leader would be making a big mistake in not recognizing a strike when one takes place, a revolutionary would be betraying the revolution if he denies its very inception. A revolution if anything is signified by the “normal” workings of society being put aside by the internal laws and logics of the revolution. If one does not recognize this it is impossible to develop a correct orientation in the seemingly chaotic social storm that revolution brings with it.
At present there has not been a decisive defeat of the mass movement in Iran and there is no social grouping, faction, layer or class that is capable of, or that will shortly become capable of, taking and consolidating power.
On the contrary the stage is set for a sharpening of the situation and thus for a more bitter and desperate class struggle. Within the youth there is an incredible thirst for ideas and especially the ideas of communism. The material base for the granting of genuine reforms within the framework of capitalism no longer exists. At the same time there is no consolidated rotten trade union or social democratic bureaucracy acting as a deadweight such as the ones we see in the western countries.
The scene is therefore set for huge steps forward for the communists. We can state with complete conviction that in the next period, precisely because we are in a revolutionary period, there will be not one but many opportunities for the communists to reach the masses. But this does not mean that we can afford to lose time or that it will happen by itself.
The ideas of Marxism are the only ones that can explain the situation and show a way out of the impasse of capitalism. But if the Marxists are only a scattered minority, as they are now, they cannot play any significant role. The task must be to reach a critical mass in order to allow us to intervene in the revolution and thus win the leadership of the masses who, pushed by the hammer blows of events, will rapidly move towards our ideas. We can and will fill the vacuum that is opening up in front of us and lead the masses of Iran towards victory.
It is therefore the most urgent task of all revolutionaries to study and discuss the political situation - not for the sake of discussion, but in order to intervene, build and organize the forces of Marxism. This is the main purpose of the document below.
Perspectives are not prophecies about the future, as if one had a crystal ball. Our main aim with the present document is to analyze the fundamental processes that are taking place below the surface of Iranian society – as a guide for action. Also a word of warning when it comes to dealing with facts, figures and statistics when dealing with Iran: they are not always completely reliable due to the nature of the regime and the way it easily manipulates these to serve different interests. Therefore one must also base oneself on the logic of the overall process as a whole to confirm the validity or not of the facts and figures we have sifted through in the maze of contradictory information.
[Note: In this document when dates of western sources and quotes are given they are in the Gregorian, or Western, Calendar. At times the Iranian calendar is used, wher the new year usually begins within a day of 21 March and the years are numbered starting from the year of the Hegira of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD. Thus to convert Iranian years into Western one has to either add 621 or 622, depending on the time of the year.]
Crisis of world capitalism
The beginning of the world economic crisis has marked a new period in the whole history of capitalism. More than any other this period is one of complete impasse and dead end of capitalism. In every single country the capitalist classes are forced to engage in fierce attacks on the working class and the poor masses in order to preserve their profits. The masses on the other side will only have one way out – class struggle.
Through the development of industry and the formation of the nation state, capitalism developed and centralized the productive forces to incredible levels. This in turn opened the road for an unparalleled development of science and culture creating for the first time in human history the potential to eradicate such things as hunger and curable diseases.
Ironically it is exactly the high level of development that places the biggest obstacles in front of capitalism. Production has become completely social, but the means of production are private and centralized in the hands of a small minority. Their interest is not to develop society, but in competition with one another, to obtain profit. Marx explained:
“...Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule. It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.
“The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself.
“But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons — the modern working class — the proletarians.” (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848)
The lines quoted above – and in fact all of Marx and Engels’ writings – are today more relevant than ever and should be studied meticulously in order to understand the workings of capitalism that fundamentally have not changed since they were written.
The state of world capitalism
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall – because it did not lead to the working class taking control of the economy, but on the contrary led to the restoration of capitalism – was a big setback for the working class. The strategists of capital did not hesitate to proclaim the final victory of capitalism. The US “philosopher” Francis Fukuyama even went as far as to proclaim the end of history.
At the same time, a prolonged period of general capitalist boom started to take shape that would further support the apparent legitimacy of capitalism. This boom was especially prolonged by the entrance of China, Russia and the further integration of India into the world market and through this the enormous expansion of world trade and further deepening of the world division of labour. At the same time by the end of the 1990’s a hitherto unseen expansion of credit, based especially on the housing market, helped postpone a looming crisis by expanding the markets far beyond their natural limits. The above factors helped capitalism prolong its period of boom for more than a decade.
However, contrary to the wishes and illusions of the capitalists the main contradictions of capitalism were not solved. On the contrary, the basic laws of capitalism, that Marx outlined many years ago, have not changed at all. The expansion of credit did allow the capitalists to expand the boundaries of the marked – temporarily! But credit is debt, and debt, as we all know, must be paid back at some point. This general expansion and integration of the world market did allow for some development of capitalism, but only at the cost of preparing a deeper and more synchronized crisis on a world scale.
The main characteristics of the capitalist system are that it is a class-divided society based on a market economy. The workers, who own nothing but their labour power, are forced to sell this to the capitalist who owns the means of production. However, in return for this generosity the worker is only paid what is needed to sustain his own existence and propagation. The capitalist in turn receives the rest of the –unpaid – value that the worker has created through social labour. Thus, in the final analysis, the workers are not able to buy back all the commodities they themselves produce.
To reduce the cause of the present crisis to a financial crisis or a crisis caused by greed and failed legislations in this or that country is pure impressionism that cannot explain anything. Marxism is the only method that can and does look at the underlying reasons for the crisis. Ted Grant also explained:
“The fundamental cause of crisis in capitalist society, a phenomenon peculiar to capitalist society alone, lies in the inevitable over-production of both consumer and capital goods for the purposes of capitalist production. There can be all sorts of secondary causes of crisis, particularly in a period of capitalist development - partial over-production in only some industries; financial juggling on the stock exchange; inflationary swindles; disproportions in production; and a whole host of others - but the fundamental cause of crisis lies in over-production. This in turn, is caused by the market economy, and the division of society into mutually conflicting classes.” (Will There Be A Slump?, Ted Grant, 1960)
These are the true causes behind the present crisis that some have dubbed a “financial” crisis. What has to be understood is that the crisis is a deep and organic crisis of the world system of capitalism. It is not due to the subjective greed of individuals or countries. We also have to understand that a crisis under capitalism serves the purpose of dealing with its inner contradictions by destroying immense amounts of “overproduced” commodities and capital. However, in the present situation nothing has been solved. The main factors leading to the crisis are still valid and even inflated in some areas. As Rob Sewell writes:
“With all the excess capacity throughout the world economy, the capitalists are investing their money in anything but production. This again shows the limits of capitalism where the productive forces have outgrown the nation state and private ownership of the means of production. The world is awash with “surplus liquidity” – money capital searching for profitable investment. Why invest in industries already saturated with overproduction, when you can speculate in currencies and make billions? This “financialisation” by capitalism, a reflection of its impasse, builds crisis and instability into its very foundations, as we are now seeing. Colossal amounts of fictitious capital (paper wealth not backed by real values) are sloshing around the world economy like loose cargo on the deck of a ship, knocking holes in the sides at every turn. Such unsound investments, as during the credit crunch, threaten to bring down the financial house of cards. (…)
“To put things in perspective, in 2007 world GDP was around $65 trillion. The total value of companies quoted on the world’s stock markets was $63 trillion. But the total value of derivatives was $596 trillion 8 times the real economy. The total currency traded was $1,168 trillion or 17 times world GDP. The bulk of this is clearly fictitious capital as it is not backed by real collateral. This whole insane structure has completely lost sight of the fact that without real production there is no value. They are the “phantom of imagination,” to use Marx’s expression.” (Currency wars: what's next?, Rob Sewell, 27 October, 2010)
Have these inflated markets been reduced since 2007? No! On the contrary, the derivatives market today is valued at $1.2 quadrillion. That’s $1.200.000.000.000.000 or 20 times as much as the world economy in total. All this is sustained by creating massive state deficits by borrowing and printing of money. In the US the gross national debt has risen from about $9 trillion to $13.4 trillion from 2007 until September 2010.
The pumping of money into the system by “quantitative easing” (printing of money) may seem like a good way of keeping up demand – to a certain degree. It may even have contributed to avoiding a steep fall in the stock markets, but the question that has to be asked is: for how long can this be kept up and at what cost? By printing trillions of dollars and running a massive state deficit the bourgeoisie is not solving anything. It is merely creating the basis of a mix of the worst situation – high inflation and an enormous debt burden that the working class will have to pay in the future. In Will there be a slump? Ted Grant explained:
“Why cannot expenditure by the capitalist state solve the problems of the economy in a capitalist society? In an economy where private ownership is the dominant form of production, production remains for the market. All taxes must come from the economy itself, either they must come from the profits of the capitalists, or they must cut into the income of the working class. In either case it cannot over a period prevent crisis. To cut into the income of the capitalist would cut into the rate of profit; money spent by the state, taken from the pockets of the capitalists, cannot be spent by the capitalists. Similarly, money extracted from the workers in taxes for the benefit of the capitalists and their state, cuts into the market for consumer goods. Thus, either way, the state eats into the vitals of the economy. The state in the modern period has become a monstrous incubus and parasitic burden on production. What the state gains on the swings, the capitalists lose on the roundabouts. The worst thing from a capitalist point of view is for the state to cut into the profits of the capitalists. For that aggravates the crisis while 80 per cent of the economy remains in the hands of private 'enterprise'. That is why as speedily as possible the capitalists get their state to lessen the taxes on profits and especially the allowances for new investments. The Tory government (and the Labour government after them) systematically lessened the taxes in this way.
“On the other hand the various Keynesian 'solutions' of this problem are basically unsound. If the state, by 'deficit financing', as advocated by Gaitskell, spends in effect money it does not possess, it means that there will be an inflation of the currency, and over a period it would amount to the above propositions on the distribution of the national income. The only difference being that crisis would be aggravated by the ruin of the currency. The reason for this would be the inevitable rise of prices, other things being equal, to the same proportion as the increase of the money in circulation not backed by goods or money.” (ibid)
At the same time we see today an increasing movement towards protectionism, which is nothing but an attempt to export unemployment. Again, in Currency wars: what's next? Rob Sewell explains:
“In particular, hostility between Washington and Beijing has escalated into something resembling trench warfare. If not an actual war, then they are without doubt on the brink of an out-and-out currency war. Salvos have been launched. The US imperialists have accused the Chinese of currency manipulation because they are refusing to increase the value of the renminbi (which would make their exports dearer). The Chinese, in turn, have attacked the Americans for having a super-loose monetary policy which has resulted in the destabilising of the flow of capital.
“The Japanese, struggling with a declining economy, have intervened with a fusillade to hold down the value of the yen and boost their exports. The Brazilians are using guerrilla tactics to stop the real from rising, after complaining that Beijing’s currency was hurting their exports. But they dare not squeal too loudly as China is their largest customer. The South Africans are taking unilateral action to protect their markets. Meanwhile, India and Thailand have threatened to bring “heavy ordnance” into play.”
In the 1930’s the recession was turned into a decade long depression precisely because of increasing protectionism and thus a freezing of world trade. The strategists of capital know this, but can do very little about it. The reason for this is exactly that capitalism is an anarchic system that cannot be controlled.
A period of revolutions and counter-revolutions
As we can see, the main factors that contributed to the development of capitalism – the nation state and private ownership of the means of production – are now turning into their opposites. The fact that under capitalism production is social (meaning it draws in the whole of society), while the ownership of the means of the production is private (producing only for the sake of profit for the few), means that it has become an absolute fetter for the development of society.
According to the World Bank, in 2005, more than 80 percent of humanity lived on less than $10 a day and about 40 percent lived on less than $2 a day. About 925 million people do not have enough to eat. 10.9 million children under five die in developing countries each year. Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases cause 60 percent of the deaths. It is estimated that 684,000 child deaths alone could be prevented by increasing access to vitamin A and zinc. Malnutrition contributes to 53 percent of the 9.7 million deaths of children under five each year in developing countries.
In the United States the income gap between the richest and poorest grew in 2009 to its largest margin ever. The top-earning 20 percent of Americans – those making more than $100,000 a year – received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the US, compared with the 3.4 percent made by the bottom 20 percent of earners, those who fell below the poverty line, according to the new figures. That ratio of 14.5 to 1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968. According to the USDA, 14% of US households experienced food insecurity during 2008, an increase from 11% the year before. 49.1 million people lived in food-insecure households.
According to an ILO report, 212 million workers were unemployed in 2009 – or 6.6 per cent of the global workforce. That is the highest level ever recorded. The report also stated that some 633 million workers and their families were living on less than $1.25 per day in 2008, with as many as 215 million additional workers at risk of falling into poverty. At the same time industrial capacity utilization remains around 75 percent in most countries. This means that although the need for production, the capacity for production and the workforce that is to perform production all exist, productions is not set in motion because it is not profitable for the owners of the means of production. Marx and Engels put it thus:
“Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period of serfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under the yoke of the feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois. The modern labourer, on the contrary, instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.” (Communist Manifesto)
In spite of the tight control that the bourgeoisie has over the mass media, the education system, the religious institutions, the political propaganda apparatus and many other powerful levers that they utilize to control public opinion, they will not be able to stop the movement of the masses against the system, because in the final analysis material conditions are decisive.
This fact has become increasingly clear during the last few years, and particularly in the recent months. In contrast to the 1990’s when mass revolutionary movements were not so common and when many so-called leaders of the workers’ movement fell into pessimism, praising the hegemony of liberalism, the last decade has seen one revolutionary movement after another, and the numbers are still rising.
Most importantly we have had the Venezuelan revolution, where for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, President Hugo Chavez has put the idea of socialism on the agenda as an alternative to capitalism. Under huge pressure from the masses Chavez has moved far more to the left than he initially had in mind when he stood as presidential candidate more than 10 years ago. The revolution has been a massive focal point for millions of workers and youth, but at the same time it is now at a crossroad. The bourgeoisie still controls the main levers of the economy and is using this to sabotage the revolution, for instance by provoking food scarcity. To succeed the revolution must make a decisive break with the capitalist system by nationalizing the main levers of the economy under workers’ control. The masses can sense this and are tired of speeches and good intentions; they want action. There is no middle road between capitalism and socialism and if the revolution does not break decisively with the capitalist system it eventually leads to demoralization and thereby to the strengthening of the counterrevolution – that will not hesitate in clamping down.
Apart from the Venezuelan revolution there have also been many other revolutionary movements in the last few years. From Bolivia, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico to Kyrgyzstan, Thailand and even in Greece and Iceland there have been massive movements marking the advent of a new period in the history of capitalism. And in the recent period we have seen the marvellous revolutionary movement of the Arab masses. Although these movements are still in their initial phases they mark the advent of a new period of revolutions and counterrevolutions – a period where the question of socialism will be put on the agenda in one country after another.
Capitalist development in Iran
Historically capitalism in Iran developed relatively late. Its weakness compared to European capitalism meant that it was doomed to undergo its development under the command of the latter. Thus Iran was dragged into the world market as a part of the world division of labour; a division that the whole preceding development of capitalism had created. Especially the discovery of oil was to shape the development of Iranian society. Iran’s main purpose in the world market has been to supply oil. This situation has continued to this day.
Thus the development of capitalism in Iran proceeded on the basis of a combined but at the same time immensely uneven development. Next to the immensely advanced oil installations or the gigantic steelworks, such as the Mobareke Steel Complex, there existed and still exist a huge informal economy in various forms and shapes; from the army of street vendors to traditional craftsmen.
The Iranian bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie, itself being reliant on – and through a thousand paths connected to – different imperialist countries, was incapable of develop the economy along any other path. The never ending search of the Stalinist parties in the 1979 revolution for a “progressive bourgeoisie” was thus doomed to fail. This must be the dearly paid for conclusion that the masses of Iran must draw from the 1979revolution.
An oil economy
Today, the same as a 100 years ago, oil, constituting 80% of all exports, is the main contributor to the national economy. The high rate of profit in this industry makes it a gigantic pole of attraction for capital investment; according to the IMF the extraction cost of oil in Iran is about US$5-10 a barrel while the price currently is hovering at about US$115.
The uneven and underdeveloped nature of the Iranian economy means that this has a paralyzing effect on the rest of the economy. Neither foreign nor domestic capitalists are interested in sustainable investments and development in other sectors. Even when investments are made, and production facilities are built, in many cases in one way or another, they rely on the profit extracted from the oil sector. So the oil industry, as in many other oil-dependent countries, plays a distorting role for the economy as a whole.
The enormous subsidies on fuel, for instance are precisely an indication of this fact. According to the International Energy Agency, Iran is the most energy inefficient country in the world, with per capita consumption of energy is 10 times what it is in the EU. Although the administration tries to blame the workers and poor for this it is clear that the bulk of such waste is in industry.
We have to state clearly that Marxists do not oppose the subsidies plan as such. On the contrary we demand the reintroduction of the subsidies, especially on basic consumer goods, which are essential to the everyday life of the Iranian workers and poor. However, at the same time, we also recognize that the fact that such a plan has been necessary is a reflection of the poorly developed Iranian economy that is not able to effectively produce these goods cheaply. The most visible indication of this fact, contrary to all claims, is that Iran is not self-sufficient even in processed gas and petrochemical products.
According to Trend News Agency, Iran needs investments to the value of US$46.5 billion to build new refineries and increase production of oil products in order to become self-sufficient. So far within the fourth development programme, Iran has invested a total of $8.2 billion in this sector. Over $6.3 billion is required simply to maintain existing production, meaning that no more than $2.1 billion has been invested in the actual expansion of production. Instead the regime has started using some of its petrochemical plants to process oil, but this again is a highly inefficient method that is not sustainable since it would probably raise the cost of production by 15 to 40 times!
The plan to cut the subsidies, especially on fuel, along with the privatization of the bulk of state-owned companies, has been promoted by the IMF, World Bank and other institutions of imperialism for quite a while. The regime has also been forced to engage in this plan since it lost a large amount of revenue when the price of oil fell from about $160 to between $60 and $80 – although since then it has risen again somewhat, but not the previous peak.
The natural result of such policies will be that large parts of Iranian industry will be destroyed, because it has never been geared for competitive production in an open “free market”. It could only survive thanks to the injection of state subsidies made from the sale of oil. The regime can no longer afford to sustain this with the present oil price. The destruction of industry in turn will force the regime to be even more dependent on imports and it will have to open up its markets even more to foreign capital.
This is a fact that is, for the time being, does not emerge clearly in the light of the present sanctions programme. Although, according to Tehran Times, the volume of smuggled goods did rise by 22 percent in the year 1388 [March 21 2009 to March 21 2010] compared to the previous year.
All the above is proof of the fact that the bourgeoisie of colonial, semi-colonial or ex-colonial countries, being completely entangled with imperialism and dependent on the world market, does not have any interests in – and is incapable of – developing society.
Under capitalism this will not change. Every step towards building a national industry would collide with the interests of the imperialist countries and the world market. Even China, whose trade with Iran is expected to grow in the future (Iran is China’s second largest oil supplier while China is the world’s biggest exporter to Iran), would never allow Iran to develop a national industry capable of competing with the cheap goods that China is flooding the Iranian market with.
On a capitalist basis, it is utopian to think that a qualitative development of the Iranian economy is possible. What is needed is to nationalize the large private companies, renationalize the main sectors of the economy that have been privatised and centralize production under the democratic control of the working masses. Only under democratic workers’ control and with a democratically decided plan can the Iranian economy be developed on a cohesive and sustainable basis. Accompanied with massive investments with the money gained from oil sales the Iranian society could be developed to unheard of heights guaranteeing access to all basic goods at cheap prices.
Capitalism in Iran has a completely parasitic character. Quick schemes and a buy-cheap-sell-expensive bazaar-like mentality predominates at all levels. The regime and the capitalists act in a very short-sighted manner and with no intentions, or ability, of developing society or the economy. Of course this impressionistic method of ruling means that the regime is not capable of establishing any real control over anything.
It has often been said that Iran escaped the world economic crisis that started after the sub-prime crisis in 2008, but this statement is meaningless in face of the facts. Of course the sanctions placed on Iran have played a role in the kind of development the Iranian economy has undergone, but only to a certain extent. Iran is still a part of the world market and thus reflects, albeit in a distorted manner, the movements on the world market.
For the last three years GDP and inflation figures have not been released by the Central Bank. The IMF estimated GDP growth would be between 1 and 2 percent for 2010 (well short of the 5% the regime estimated would be needed to keep the level of unemployment stable and the 8% targeted in the Five Year Plan). In 2008 and 2009 these figures were an estimated 2.5 percent and 1.4 percent – down from an estimated 7.8 percent in 2007! So it is clear that there has been a significant decline in the economic growth of the country since the inception of the crisis. The real figures are, however, a mystery, but there are some indications that the situation is far worse than this and that there has actually been a contraction in production. The fact that 12 percent of all cheques bounced in the four first months of 2010, compared to almost 5 percent in the whole of 1384 [2005-06] and almost 9 percent in the whole year of 1388 [2009-10].
This is much more indicative of the real state of the economy than the random figures of growth that different institutions throw up. And there is not much reason to think that the situation is going to change in the short term. On the contrary all signs are pointing towards a further collapse in the economy.
According to the IMF, inflation fell from about 30 percent to about 10 percent in 2010. But this figure, which has also been echoed by some official sources, is so random that it serves more as an insult in the face of normal working Iranians than as an economic indicator. The reality for most Iranians is that prices are rising daily. According to Reuters Africa an unofficial survey commissioned by the Iranian parliament showed that inflation was around 50 percent.
On top of this there are three main factors that will serve to push up inflation in the next period. Firstly, the cut in the subsidies alone is predicted to raise prices by more than 30 percent. Secondly, the sanctions imposed on Iran are already making imports more expensive. Last year, according to official records, although the weight of goods passing through Iranian customs was the same as the year before, their value (read price) rose from $6billion to $30billion.
Thirdly, the Rial has started to show signs of weakness that the regime may not be able to control in the next period. For years the regime has only allowed the Rial to fall by about 5% a year compared to the dollar. This was maintained even though inflation in Iran was much higher than in the US. This means that while the Rial was steadily losing its real value compared to the dollar it was being kept up artificially by the massive spending of Iranian reserves. A major reason for this was probably to protect the massive increase in imports that are increasingly controlled by the Guards. Iran's production of sugar cane, for example, has dropped from 1.2 tonnes in 2006 to 0.5 tonnes at present. This came after the tariffs on sugar imports were reduced to zero. Iran used to be a net exporter of rice; now it is a net importer. In the first five months of the last Persian calendar year, rice imports came to 654 metric tonnes, or $542 million worth. That is a massive 311% increase over the corresponding period in the previous year.
In spite of the measures adopted by the government, in October 2010 the Rial suddenly started a sharp decline, falling almost 13% against the dollar in less than a week, before its value was restored thanks to the intervention of the Central Bank. Although the regime did not comment on the incident officially, there were several reasons given for this by Iran-based and non-Iran-based economists: shortage of reserves because the regimes accounts abroad had been frozen; Korean and Gulf-based banks breaking relations due to the sanctions; speculation and black market dealing in Iranian currency markets and several other reasons.
However, no matter what the trigger for the fall was – and it could have been any or all of the above – the main reason was the inflated currency that cannot be kept up “naturally” because of the chronic weakness of the Iranian economy and its manufacturing sector. If inflation starts spiralling due to the first two factors there is no guarantee that the regime can keep the value of the Rial up and its fall would thus add to all the other factors, starting a vicious spiralling inflation.
While inflation is looking to soar in the next period there is no reason to think that other factors of the economy will improve. The Manufacturing sector, which is the only sector that can create real economic growth, is in fact facing difficult times. In late 1388 [January 2010] the ILNA published figures that revealed there had been a decline of 93 percent in new foreign direct investment (FDI). This was probably both due to the global economic crisis and the unstable situation created by the outbreak of the mass movement in the summer of 1388 . Since then FDI has fallen even further, also pushed down by the sanctions. All the largest players on the oil markets are leaving the country and taking with them investments that are needed to maintain the old and outdated infrastructure of the oil industry. Also other industrial actors such as German steel giant ThyssenKrupp have started to pull out.
At the same time the regime’s privatization plan – aiming at giving away the bulk of Iranian industry to the friends of the regime – is already preparing the road for massive layoffs and bankruptcies. Most obvious is the example of the electricity sector, to which the government owes 5,000 billion toman ($5 billion) and that therefore faces many bankruptcies and layoffs (some say as many as 900,000 layoffs).
Already in late 1388  the president of the Chamber of Commerce (رئیس اتاق بازرگانی ایران) announced that more than 50 percent of the industrial capacity of the country was inactive. Also it was announced that almost 16 percent of all production units were in crisis.
In the first month of last [Iranian] year, starting on March 20 , many workers are reported to have lost their jobs in Iran. Sadeghi of the Tehran Islamic Labour Councils put the increase in the number of layoffs during the New Year break at 49 percent compared to 2008 and the increase in the number of workers visiting the labour offices at 70 percent. The layoffs were in many sectors, large and small, spanning different geographical locations in the country.
Pars Electric, a major public electrical supplies manufacturing factory, which has been privatized, in the course of the year kept only 150 workers out of the 3,500 once it employed. Leather factories in the city of Mashhad in north-eastern Iran have recently shed at least 1,500 jobs. Since 2003, 45 major leather factories in Khorasan province have closed down. With the rise in imported goods, continuation of the sanctions, rapid privatization and, most importantly, the cutting of subsidies for fuel, the crisis in manufacturing industry will generally get worse.
Of course the biggest and most important production units such as Iran Khodro and Saipa, which is effectively being handed over to its management, will probably see further development and maybe even receive more investments, but this is only due to the fact that they will remain connected to the state apparatus and the lucrative oil money. But the second layer, embracing the bulk of production, will probably suffer severely in the next period. In any case it would probably be more profitable to fragment these units and sell off the machinery and the premises than to develop and invest massively only to have to compete with the wave of cheap Chinese goods produced in large and modern facilities that are presently flooding into Iran.
There are other factors working against the prospect of a revival of the Iranian economy. If anything a capitalist produces to sell his goods. Unfortunately, the prospects for increased demand in Iran are bleak.
Most important in this context is unemployment. The official figures of unemployment are heavily distorted and sometimes even seem randomly picked out of thin air. Officially unemployment is said to be 13 % but this doesn’t take into account people working less than two hours a week and who are either housewives or soldiers in service. As Abbas Vatanpour, Secretary of the Co-ordination Council of Employers in Iran, told Mehr News, the real figure, including housewives etc., stands at least at 22 percent, and is above 45 percent in some provinces. But there is no reason to think that even this figure is reliable, since hundreds of thousands of people are systematically not included in these statistics.
According to the regime’s own and highly underestimated figures, unemployment will increase sharply in the next few years, going above 15 and even 18 percent. Combined with the removal of state subsidies on basic goods, this will cause a collapse in the spending power of the Iranian masses
According to the IMF subsidies amount to around US$4000 a year for an average family. At the same time hundreds of thousands of families’ yearly income stands at around the same amount. This indicates not only what a dark future awaits the Iranian masses that will be facing a desperate situation once the cuts in subsidies are fully implemented, but it also highlights what a dire situation the economy is really in.
Dark clouds are gathering and all the factors are pointing to new lows for the Iranian economy. Helped by high oil prices and increased foreign investments in the past it was able to expand some parts of industry, for instance the automobile sector, but this development has never been sustainable. As long as the global economy was booming, oil prices were high and foreign investments were rising, this situation could be sustained. Now, however, these factors are no longer present and all the contradictions are slowly starting to emerge. Inflation is moving towards higher levels as the economy begins to stagnate, creating a vicious combination known as “stagflation”.
Iranian capitalism is sick and rapidly moving towards a severe crisis, but this does not mean that it will collapse by itself. To solve its crisis it only has one option, to unload burden onto the Iranian masses. This is creates the conditions for fierce class struggle in the future. The Iranian working masses will be facing a major onslaught on a scale never seen before. The Iranian masses face factory closures, layoffs, price hikes and attacks against even the most basic rights that they have won in the past.
The Iranian masses will have no other option than to engage in the fiercest class struggle. They will see through their own experience that within the system of capitalism there is only endless horror and that the only alternative is socialism. Only by consciously taking over the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control of the workers and by centralizing production under a democratic plan can the masses find a way out and develop the country to fulfil its true potential.
The Islamic Republic
The present Islamic Republic was built on the bones of thousands of revolutionaries. Helped by the international mass media, it has done everything to bury the faintest memory of the real 1979 revolution under a mountain of corpses and lies that claim that the present system was the choice of the masses. In reality the main practical purpose of the Islamic Republic was to strangle one of the greatest revolutionary movements of the last century, physically destroy all workers’ organizations and through this preserve the rule of capital and private property.
For this purpose the regime had to erect a monstrous state apparatus that could penetrate the masses and prevent any independent crystallization of the proletariat. However, this enormous state apparatus, that at first served to crush the revolution, is now turning into its opposite. It is becoming a fetter on its own rule. Over the years different layers and groups within the apparatus have developed different bases for their activities – some have worked their way within the Guards, some within the Bonyaads, some in the privatized companies, some in the oil industry, and so on. As long as the economy was moving forward to some degree and the masses were not moving, this situation was simply seen as a simple division of labour (or sharing out of the spoils).
Now, however, with all these factors changing, the contradictions within the regime are coming to the surface and acting as strong centrifugal forces that are tearing the system apart. The main difference between the two main groups, the “liberalists” [or Reformists] and the “conservatives”, is to be found in the fact that they are rooted in different sectors of the economy and the state apparatus. The Iranian regime consists of both these factions.
Ever since the mass eruptions in the summer of 1388  the Iranian regime has been chronically divided. The entrance of the masses on to the scene disrupted all deals and alliances within the regime. Lenin described this process – where the rulers are split and can no longer rule in the way they used to – as the first condition for a revolutionary situation.
Politically the Reformists were no alternative to the regime. Their liberal policies of opening up the country and the speeding up of privatisation would not have meant any improvement in the lives of the masses. On the contrary, they would have actually made things even worse. We must remember that also when Khatami was president there were several crackdowns on workers and protesters.
However, because of the absence of any mass organizations or leadership, the masses chose the figure of Mirhossein Mousavi and the colour green as a focal point for expressing their demands. Mousavi himself, and also Karroubi, belonged to the right wing of the “Reformist” faction of the regime. His was a safe and loyal opposition. But when the masses put their weight behind him and the “Reformists” these were no longer in control of the movement. Under pressure from below, they were forced to go a lot further than they wished.
Mousavi did not really want to join the demonstration on 25 khordad [June 15], the largest after the elections, but he was forced to because the youth around him kept on mobilizing for it. Mousavi therefore had two choices, either to go against the movement and let it follow its own path and thus risk it threatening the whole system or follow it and try to derail it. He chose the latter path. Thus he was pushed far more to the left than he ever wanted.
The movement of the masses dealt an important blow against the regime, and ever since it has been thrown completely out of balance. On the one hand the economic situation forces the regime to attack wide layers of the population, including parts of its own base, but on the other hand it is not strong enough to carry through the attacks to their logical end.
This has been clearly illustrated by the bazaar strikes that have taken place in the last few months. Every time the regime has tried to impose some kind of tax increase it has been forced to a humiliating retreat. The significance of these retreats lies in the fact that they have been caused by the internal divisions within the ruling clique.
So, contrary to what all parties and factions have hoped for, the regime has not been able to unite and reaffirm its position since it was shaken severely between the elections and Ashura 1388 [December 28, 2009]. On the contrary, internal splits and conflicts keep devouring the regime from within and will continue to do so as long as the balance of forces does not allow one of the contending classes to impose itself and consolidate its position.
These divisions, as it has become popular to do, cannot simply be reduced to the “Reformists” versus the “hardliners”, putting the former on the side of US imperialism (and the royalists) and the latter on the side of Chinese and Russian imperialism. This conception is wrong and only opens the way for speculation and conspiracy theories that lead nowhere. Each camp of the regime is welded together by the immediate interests of the individuals belonging to that camp. In fact the period since the summer of 1388  can best be characterized by the constant rise and fall of alliances in and between the two camps. Speculating about who-is-who and about the exact form that the divisions and alliances within the regime take, is a pointless and impossible task.
What we can conclude, however, is that there is one side that says that the regime must clamp down in order to save itself and the other that believes that concessions from the top are needed in order to prevent revolution from below. Both camps are wrong, however, for when the movement is ready to take off both these tactics will only serve to strengthen the masses. Clamping down can temporarily cut across the movement, but in the long run it will strengthen the resolve of the workers and youth to go further. Making concessions sends out the message that the regime is weak and more can therefore be achieved, thus spurring on the movement.
The task of the Marxists is to analyze the splits as they occur, define their significance for the class struggle and use them in order to spread the ideas of Marxism. In the recent period the “Reformists” have been able to keep some form of apparent unity. This has been caused on the one side by the fact that they are not in government and secondly – and most importantly – because the hardcore of youth who comprised the vanguard of the mass movement in 2009 have been forcing unity upon them.
Thus the most significant splits in the last period have occurred within the hard-line camp. An important indication of deep splits within this camp was revealed when Elias Naderan, himself a hard-line Member of Parliament, accused the Iranian first vice-president Mohammad Reza Rahimi of heading the Fatemi street corruption ring. However, the allegations against Rahimi have not materialized into any legal action.
Also it has been clear that there has been much tension between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. The latter for instance, did not mention Ahmadinejad for months after the crackdown on the Ashura uprising. The attacks and counterattacks between Ahmadinejad and the ayatollah have since continued. Kayhan, which is under Khamenei's control, criticized the president for proposing to negotiate with the United States and for reaching the nuclear agreement with Turkey and Brazil. Larijani declared that "some were fooled by the Westerners during the nuclear negotiations." Ahmadinejad countered in a TV interview, saying that his critics were uninformed.
The president and his right-hand man, Mashaei, clearly recognize that a large majority of the Iranian people are tired of the brand of Islam enforced by the clerics. They also know that nostalgic feelings for pre-Islamic Iran have been used by some in the opposition, particularly in Europe and the United States, to provoke anti-government activities. They are consequently trying to distance themselves from the clerics in this and other matters. Some time ago, Mashaei said that Iran has no quarrel with the people of Israel, prompting a widespread outcry within parts of the clergy.
In "normal" times the different factions agree to “ignore” or even accept each other’s actions, but in a situation where they are all trying to maintain their legitimacy among their base, their constant undermining of the system puts enormous strains on their relationship. They are all forced to attack and expose each other in order to justify their own existence and defend their legitimacy. This is exactly what is happening within the regime.
Lenin explains how the inability of the ruling classes to rule and live as before 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 within the Iranian regime, on the one side provided an outlet for the mass movement, but then they were then further opened up by the powerful thrust of the movement itself. However, 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 its further development. One thing is clear, however. As long as there is no class, layer or group that is strong enough to take and consolidate power –defeating the other layers and classes – the unity within the regime will be an unstable one.
When Ahmadinejad and his allies within the Iranian regime rigged the presidential elections in 1388  they did not expect this development. In fact they had done it once before, though on a much smaller scale, when Ahmadinejad "won" his first presidential campaign. But the Iranian people could not endure any more of misery and poverty. They had nothing to lose and they used Mousavi as their rallying point. The millions coming out in the early days did not even expect anything to begin with.
But the immenseness of the movement shook them out of their usual ways of thought. At every turn the masses gained more confidence in their own powers. In those days the Iranian masses showed enormous potential. Without a lead, without organization or any means of communication, they organized one of the most biggest movements of the last decade. They understood that the only way forward was through struggle. They took their lives into their own hands and overcame many obstacles.
The enormity of the movement multiplied a thousand times all the tensions and contradictions brewing inside the ruling clique. Cracks started to appear in every corner of the system. Even within the Revolutionary Guards you could see episodes where some of the soldiers showed sympathy with the masses. Everything, that for so long had seemed rock solid, began shaking like a tower of jelly in those days in Iran.
But even a magnificent movement like the one we witnessed here, if not taken to a higher level, will inevitably go into decline. As a matter of fact, what was surprising was the resilience of this movement. For six months there were constant explosions every month, eventually climaxing in the Ashura uprising.
However, paradoxically, the Ashura uprising at the same time as it revealed the immenseness of the opposition of the masses to the regime, also opened the path for a period of lull in the movement. On the one hand, the scope and the unprecedented show of force by the masses highlighted the utter impotence and weakness of the regime. In fact, in an interview with The Guardian a defector from the IRGC revealed that the Ashura events had been so powerful that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad had ordered a plane to be put on standby, ready to fly them to Syria.
But, on the other hand, it was precisely this colossal show of strength that also highlighted the main weaknesses of the mass movement. Despite all the sacrifices that the masses had made, there had been no concrete results whatsoever. The lack of a programme, of an organization and the absence of the workers as a class began to act as a brake on the movement.
In the end these problems arise when there is no conscious revolutionary mass leadership. Although the level of consciousness of the movement in those days was considerably raised and the aims of the movement – the necessity of overthrowing the regime – became clear to thousands, the tools with which to act on this new basis were not there.
This is what determined the opening of a period of lull in the movement. It is also clear, however, that it does not indicate a decisive retreat of the movement; rather 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 at stake and we have used our full force, but no change has taken place. A new method is required."
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 in these days without receiving significant blows, it was also clear that they didn't have the broader layers of the movement with them. In the face of massive repression, and with the absence of a plan and a programme, many decided to stay at home rather than risk their lives just to go home again. Trotsky explains in the preface to his 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 programme, 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 living struggle of social forces, each with their own inner contradictions, that rise and peak at different times. This struggle does not express itself 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 ten 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.
The working class
It is clear that the lack of the working class as an independent actor with its own means and aims has been a source of weakness for the revolutionary movement, but could we have expected anything else? There are five main reasons that explain why the working class as an organised force has not been on the scene of revolution until now.
- Lack of organization: For the organized workers to participate, organization is needed. All the historical organizations have been completely destroyed in Iran and new ones are only now beginning to appear. Of genuine unions with a couple of thousand supporters there are less than five. Although this could change very fast it serves as a heavy brake for the movement of the workers
- The Economic Crisis: The recession and the subsequent decline in the conditions of the workers initially acted like a brake on workers all around the world, and especially in Iran where the crisis has been more severe than most other places. Although it is important to stress that this situation has started to change and we now see small signs of the workers beginning to move.
- Mistakes of the leaders: Although the Iranian workers' movement has 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.
- The lack of a revolutionary programme: A clear programme 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. Therefore in order to gather the mass of the working class, a bold programme linked with the slogan of "down with the regime" is necessary.
- Lack of a revolutionary party of the working class: 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 clear 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 lack of workers’ organization capable of putting their stamp on the situation has undoubtedly served to temporarily blur the class nature of the struggle. Thousands of the natural leaders of the working class, seeing no alternative and correctly following their instinctive, seeking unity, have been working tirelessly side by side with other brave men and women from all corners 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, however. 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 epicentre of activities has altered and a molecular process is taking places in the factories and the working class neighbourhoods that are being increasingly pulled in towards the movement.
We do not have a romanticised view of the working class. For Marxists it is a social force consisting of millions of people who do not own any means of production and who are thus forced to sell their labour power to the capitalists in order to survive. They are potentially the strongest social force who can topple any government, because they have the ability of halting production – the heart of capitalism. At the same time the workers are the only class that, due to their position in production has an instinctively collective consciousness and who can thus build a socialist society after a revolution. When we advocate the independent movement of the working class we do not advocate the division of the mass movement, on the contrary. The workers at the head of the movement are the only force that can consistently unite all other oppressed layers and classes behind them.
This process can already be seen in the number of strikes that have increased dramatically from the very low levels before Ashura. May Day last year (2010) – although not a numerical success at all compared to the previous year – for the first time revealed a truly national workers’ movement, with the organization of May Day pickets and demonstrations in many cities.
Talk of actively bringing the workers into the movement is now widespread and the general strike as a vital tool for action is widely accepted among the population. The humiliation of the regime in the Kurdish general strike on May 13 was undoubtedly a great inspiration for millions of Iranians. It is not at all ruled out that, at some point, the "whip of the counter-revolution" may lead to another general strike, this time 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 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 neighbourhoods for its preparation.
No matter what, the situation is clearly being prepared for the active participation of the working class, although this development will only show its full significance once the regime is overthrown. In such a situation the inability of capitalism to offer any concessions to the masses will become clear and the perspective 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.
Women and revolution
Marxists understand revolution as “the festival of the oppressed”. When the masses come directly onto the scene of history to take politics into their own hands, every oppressed section of society brings its own and revolutionary potential to the movement demanding an end to each and all forms of oppression.
An integral part of the capitalist system, even in the most advanced, bourgeois countries, is the oppression of women. Those who suffer a double oppression are the vast majority of women from working-class and toiling sections of society. They not only have to go through the sufferings of their class brothers (unemployment, wage slavery, etc.) but a million other forms of exploitation that are reproduced by the capitalist system every day. One of the most manifest demonstrations of this is housework, which in most countries around the world is still fundamentally done by women. This, and other forms of “double exploitation” that women suffer, is a tool of the capitalist system to divide the working people along gender lines.
This double exploitation has meant that women have always been part of the most revolutionary sections of the working class. Women workers played a decisive role in two of the greatest revolutions of human history, the French Revolution of 1789-1792 and Russian Revolution of 1917.
If this is generally true all over the world, it applies a hundred times more to the conditions of Iran for the simple reason that the forms of exploitation of women in Iran and their severity under the Islamic Republic are also multiplied a hundred times over.
When Khomeini, heading the counter-revolution, defeated the 1979 revolution, he knew that for him to set up his counter-revolutionary theocracy, he had to severely oppress revolutionary women who had come out en masse in an unprecedented manner in the preparation and in the aftermath of the revolution. Khomeini and the Khomeinists put on their agenda a massive attack on Iranian women and today’s medieval laws are a direct result of this assault.
Based on the current Iranian Law, “Women’s blood money is half that of the men and the testimony of two women in court is equivalent to that of one man”. This gives us an indication of the degrading status that the law places women in Iran in.
However, looking at today’s society one can see how miserably they have failed in silencing and putting down Iranian women. In the recent period we have seen a most impressive range of activities by militant women in Iran. These go from debates and discussions that go deep into the roots of women’s oppression in Iran and internationally, to the mass movements and mobilization of Iranian women from all walks of life, the most well-known of which is the “One Million Signature Campaign”. Marxists see themselves as part of this explosion of struggles against the male chauvinist government of Iran. At the same time, we actively take part in the discussions in the movement to explain that women’s oppression is an integral part of the capitalist system and that the struggle for genuine women’s freedom inevitably comes into conflict with capitalism itself.
We need to explain that, despite what some bourgeois feminists want us to believe, militant women who fight in the ranks of the women’s liberation movement do not only concern themselves with purely “women’s issues”. They know very well that women’s liberation cannot come about unless men are also freed (i.e. unless the liberation of the whole of humanity is achieved). For them to end discrimination and inequality means participating in the first ranks of the popular movement against the dictatorship. They obviously bring their most radical demands to completely end the oppression of women (and it is these very demands that in turn add a massive revolutionary energy to the movement and bring more layers of women into it) but they are also among the most revolutionary and militant protagonists of the current movement. This is exactly what we have witnessed since the rise of revolutionary movement in summer 2008.
Some reactionary elements speak of women as a sect with its own “special interests” who shouldn’t care about supposedly “men’s” issues, such as changing the government, etc. Some have even gone as far as to claim that the massive presence of women in the Iranian revolution explains why it has remained “non-violent”. But pictures of women attacking the violent police and Basij put an end to all these reactionary “compliments”. These same elements criticized the Ashura uprising for going “too far” and becoming too “masculine”. A video of teenage students in a girls’ high school in Isfahan who were shouting “Death to the Dictator” and “Death to this government” was sufficient to show how much influence these champions of “non-violence” really have on ordinary Iranian women.
The Islamic Republic wanted to turn women into individuals isolated to the four walls of their homes with its oppressive medieval laws, but it has failed for today women are among the most radical section of the current movement. Their revolutionary energy is powerful combustible material for the women’s liberation movement which is itself an important column of the Iranian revolution. The women have risen up to liberate themselves from the chains of backwardness and through their own experience they will also find that such liberation can only come about through struggle against the capitalist system itself.
The National Question – For a Voluntary Union
Iranian society is comprised of a diverse variety of nationalities and groups that add to its incredibly rich culture. Arabs of the south, Kurds of the West, Turks of the North and West, Armenians of the North, Baluchis of the southeast, Turkmens of the northeast, Lurs of the centre, Afghans in different areas, are just among some of the distinct nationalities that live within the current borders of Iran. The experience of the last century clearly shows that these nationalities have always proved to be in the forefront of struggle for revolution, democracy and socialism in Iran. At the same time, central dictatorial governments have always oppressed them in the most brutal manner.
As a result, the national question is one of the most sensitive in Iran. More than half of the people in Iran are treated as second-class citizens, deprived of basic rights, such as the right to be educated in their own mother tongue, a policy that is shamefully supported not only by the Islamic Republic but also by a large part of the bourgeois opposition to the regime.
The struggle for democracy and socialism in our country will not bear fruit without a strong stance in support of the inalienable rights of all nationalities and ethnicities of Iran, offering a solution of the national question.
Marxists wholeheartedly support, and are an inseparable part of, the movement of the oppressed nationalities for their rights, from the right to use and be educated in one’s own language to that of the right to regional autonomy, which has been long denied by both the previous Pahlavi governments and the subsequent Islamic Republic. We support the total right to self-determination for all nationalities in Iran. It is unfortunate that some elements downplay the obvious national oppression that large sections of society have suffered or claim that fighting for the right to self-determination will weaken the ties of class solidarity between the workers in Iran. Marxists believe that a revolutionary unity of the whole of the Iranian proletariat, and that of the region as a whole, is impossible if it is not on a voluntary basis and without the perspective for the struggle against national oppression.
While believing in the total right of all nationalities of Iran to self-determination, Marxists propose a voluntary union of the working class and toiling masses of all Iran, together with all the other working people of the region, in the struggle to overthrow the Islamic dictatorship and for socialism.
Full trust in the masses – forward towards socialism!
It is clear that Iranian society is in a deep crisis. Although calm may seem to rule now we have yet to see the biggest explosions. The reason for this is clear – none of the main contradictions within Iranian society have been solved. On the contrary, the tensions have only risen. The state apparatus is devouring itself in a vicious circle of every-man-for-himself. The regime is very weak, but the economic situation is not leaving it a breathing space to manoeuvre. It is forced to attack, not only the most downtrodden masses, but also parts its own base. The regime is chronically sick and is not capable of solving even the smallest of problems. As soon as it extinguishes a fire in one place the flames spread to other sectors. The regime and its state apparatus are rotten from top to bottom and are doomed to fall.
At the same time unemployment, poverty and oppression are tearing up the fabric of society and dragging the country towards barbarism. The advanced decomposition of society is breaking down all human relations. Unemployment, poverty, prostitution, drug addiction, violence, child abuse and depression are normal elements in the everyday life of every single Iranian.
Almost 70 percent of the Iranian population is under the age of 30. A large number of these have a university degree. In 2008 alone over 3.5 million students enrolled in the universities. But for a majority of these young people the final exam is just the last step before unemployment. Without any bright future in sight the youth has been left to rot.
As long as the system of capitalism prevails none of these problems can be solved. This was exactly why the totalitarian dictatorship of the Islamic Republic was established in the first place, because capitalism is not capable of meeting even the smallest demands of the masses in Iran. This is even more the case in the crisis-period that we have entered now. Even in the most advanced countries with formal parliamentary democracy there is no room for enhancing the living standards of the masses. On the contrary, as we have seen, the capitalists are forced to attack all rights won by the working class in the previous period. This is not because of lack of capacity or because of a lack of human resources, but only because capitalist society is only run with the intention of the few to extract profit from the many.
It is clear now that at some point the Islamic Republic will fall. That is the greatest obstacle in front of the masses right now is the lack of a revolutionary leadership. It is important is to build a strong communist organisation that can channel the grievances of the masses towards their logical conclusion – socialist revolution. But with the scattered and weak state of the Iranian communists today the most likely situation would be that after the fall of the regime power would initially slip through the hands of the masses and some form of bourgeois democratic regime would emerge.
This would not be like the lonmgstanding bourgeois democracies in the advanced capitalist countries. It would be a very unstable regime, in some terms similar to the provisional government after the February revolution in Russia 1917. It would open a period where the bourgeoisie would try to consolidate power while at the same time having to make some concessions to the masses who would continue to push even further
It would be a mistake to think that the movement would stop once such a regime came to power. Many activists are concerned about the so-called “hegemony” of Liberalism within the movement, but we must emphasise that this is only caused by the lack of an alternative and not by the “bourgeoisification” or the brainwashing of the masses and the youth. Also we must point out that, in the final analysis, it is events and the material conditions that shape mass consciousness – this is true most of all in a revolutionary period.
A new bourgeois government would be a very weak one that would try to consolidate itself, while the masses would be pushing their own agenda. Until then the struggle would probably appear as a “national” struggle of all classes, but after the overthrow of the present regime, class differentiation would set in quickly. The liberal bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie would be satisfied and would reduce the struggle to one about who gets control of the different parts of the old system. They would most likely use the opportunity to open up the Iranian market in accordance with IMF and World Bank directives and promote a massive programme of privatisation.
These actions, as we have explained earlier, would not solve the main problems of the masses: unemployment, poverty, rising prices, bad housing and misery and so on. But the workers and the youth would not accept such a situation. Therefore there would be a sharp turn to the left and a build up towards new explosions. This was the situation that was developing after the 1979 revolution, but was derailed by the Stalinists. Even Khomeini, who came to power on the shoulders of tens of millions in February, was confronted with big strikes and demonstrations of the unemployed by May.
It is thus only after an overthrow of the present regime that the real social fault lines will express themselves clearly and to the fullest. The youth will demand decisive changes in the running of society and to bring it under the democratic control of the masses. The nationalities will demand an end to oppression, the workers will demand the paying of back wages and on everybody’s lips will be one word: Jobs!
The problem is that the capitalists are not able to give such concessions or to create jobs. Thus they will be forced, sooner or later, to attack the masses and their democratic rights. This is when the question of socialism will come to the fore. For it is only by taking over of the key levers of the economy into their own hands that the masses will be able to solve their main problems. The bourgeoisie have proven that it is incapable of running the economy. As the workers from the Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory put it in May 2008 “We have said many times that we have the ability to run the factory and to continue production.”
However, we also have to understand that it is not enough to have workers’ control and management in one factory. It is not possible to build an island of socialism in a sea of capitalism. What is needed is to take over the main levers of the economy – the banks, the large factories and the land – and centralize them under a democratically developed national plan aimed at fulfilling the needs of the masses and not those of a small clique and their hangers on.
At the same time the Islamic Republic must be completely eradicated. A new state must be built rooted in the neighbourhoods and factories and based on the four principles that Lenin drew up for a healthy workers’ state:
- Abolition of the state bureaucracy and its replacement with elected, accountable and at all times recallable peoples representatives;
- No official is to receive higher pay than that of a skilled worker;
- In place of a standing army must be a people’s militia;
- Instead of a bureaucratic hierarchy, gradually all jobs in the administration of the state to be done by everyone in turn. Thus when everyone is a “bureaucrat” no one can be a bureaucrat
Only through the setting up of a workers’ state can the democratic rights of the people be secured and the true potential of the Iranian people be fulfilled. A socialist transformation of Iran would bring with it the greatest advances in science and culture. The high level of education, the ancient and rich culture, the big working class, the huge cities and the vibrant sea of youth that is today left to rot by the present system would form an immensely progressive mix. The advances for humanity would dwarf anything ever experienced and it would send shockwaves throughout the Middle East and beyond.
If such a victory were achieved, it would not stop at the present Iranian borders. Internationalism would be inherent in every facet of the revolution. On the one side, the need for rapid modernisation and development of industry and production would force the revolution to broaden its borders, and on the other it is inevitable that the movement would spread to all countries within the region, the peoples of which share the same sufferings and aspirations as the Iranian people, and this would also spread across the world.
The future of the movement and the tasks of the Marxists
Many of the youth who led the movement after the elections have joined the “Reformist” parties. In one sense this is a step forward, since it shows that they understand that a more organized struggle is needed on a political basis. But at the same time the policies of Mousavi will not solve anything and have already shown themselves to be disastrous.
In all his statements he defends the state in the name of the unity of the Iranian people, while at the same time he distances himself from the most sacrificing and farsighted elements in the movement. This is an indication of his true intentions. The unity of the masses with the rotten murderous state and military apparatus is like the unity of the hen and the fox. How can the masses unite with an apparatus that has been built and geared to murder and suppress? It would only be the prelude to a future bloodbath.
The fact that on the anniversary of the elections Mousavi withdrew his support for a demonstration only days before it was going to take place – thus leaving the most dedicated fighters vulnerable on the streets without mass support – shows his cowardly and treacherous nature. With friends like this, who needs enemies?
After the disappointment on the anniversary it was clear that the movement had decisively entered a period of lull. Thus it was cost free for Mousavi to call for demonstrations on Quds day, where he knew the masses would not turn out. Although the youth is not fooled by Mousavi and the “Reformists” there is no other alternative. Therefore the core of the movement will probably continue to support him in the next period. For the Marxists it is important not to act in an impatient and sectarian manner towards these honest elements who we should not treat as if they were in the same camp as Mousavi and other top “reformists”.
For Marxists socialism is not just a good idea, but a need arising out of the material conditions and that the masses gravitate towards when they are forced into struggle by capitalism. Our duty as Marxists is to patiently explain the need for socialism, taking as our starting point the immediate struggle of the masses.
At present, because of the lack of a revolutionary mass leadership and the totalitarian character of the regime, the movement has assumed that of a “democratic revolution”. We, the Marxists, are not opposed to democratic slogans. On the contrary, we are fully in support of democratic and anti-imperialist slogans. In fact contrary to all bourgeois elements who only use these slogans demagogically, we are the most consistent defenders of democratic rights. But at the same time we must underline the fact that capitalism, especially in Iran, will not be able to give these concessions.
It is the duty of Marxists to boldly put forward the slogans of democracy, which is the main wish of the masses at present, but at the same time to link them with the question of socialism. We must explain that it is only socialism – that is the rule of the masses – that can ensure these rights. In this way, based on the experience of the masses in their struggle, we are confident that we will win them to our side.
At present it is clear to us that the mass movement is neither dead nor defeated. At the same time it is also clear that it cannot continue in the form that is has assumed so far. It is precisely because of this that the present lull could continue. In this period the workers and youth will be thinking of what is required to remove this regime. Therefore sudden explosions are possible. In any case this is only a temporary phenomenon.
The material situation of the masses will worsen sharply and this will have the effect of dragging in wider layers into the movement as well as giving the struggles a much more bitter character. The movement of the Iranian masses shook the world two years ago, but even bigger explosions still lie in the future.
The political experience of this period will be very important. It will be a period of reassessment of the means and methods and a period, if seized on, of theoretical clarification. The weakness of the communists after the Ashura was their scattered nature and their lack of political homogeneity. The period we have entered provides us with an opportunity to gather the genuine forces of communism and weld them together with the ideas of genuine Marxism. Wherever possible, discussion circles must be set up to discuss the classical works of Marxism and how to connect the ideas of Marxism with the masses.
The immediate and urgent task of the Marxists lies in the building of a large core in time for the next mass eruption. If we succeed, our intervention can prove decisive. The scene is set for great events in the future. We have full confidence in the fact that the ideas of Marxism are the only ones that can explain the impasse of capitalism and at the same time show a way out towards socialist revolution. Our ideas have a wide audience and great traditions in Iran. The field is wide open for us and the tide of history is with us now – the scene is set for the greatest victory of all – forward to socialist victory!