Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fighting over the corpse

Iran: Fighting over the corpse

As the two wings of the regime continue to squabble, write Chris Strafford and Yassamine Mather, the opposition movement grows in radicalism and confidence

Majid TavakoliThere seems to be no end to the crisis which has erupted after Iranian state television showed protesters tearing down or burning images of ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini following the nationwide student protests of December 7. None of the videos revealed the faces of those responsible, they were not linked to any one student demonstration or protest and most people in Iran believe the screening was a deliberate act by supporters of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or supreme leader Ali Khamenei - or both - to increase tension and justify further repression. In fact the event has given a new dimension to the current political conflict between the two factions of the regime.

The opposition denies charges that its supporters were responsible for ‘desecration’ of Khomeini’s image. Prosecutors in Tehran claimed a number of people have been arrested and there would be “no mercy towards those who insulted the imam”. Ahmadinejad is warning that a “hurricane of the revolutionary anger of the nation” is coming. In a speech on December 13 Khamenei went further: “Some have converted the election campaign into a campaign against the entire system.”

The “incident” is being used by conservatives to attack reformist opponents - while the ‘green movement’ is blaming Ahmadinejad supporters (of course, repeated use of Photoshop to multiply the number of people attending Ahmadinejad rallies has left the government open to accusations of fraud). The two wings of the regime are fighting over Khomeini’s corpse.

The supreme leader’s pictures are regularly torn and set on fire these days, yet there seemed to be no major outcry about the ‘desecration’ of the images of god’s current representative on earth, as opposed to the first supreme leader. Many in Iran believe the fabrication of the scandal shows a level of desperation in the government and the ruling faction, as various previous attempts to stop the protests have clearly failed.

Irrespective of who is responsible for the “incident”, there is no doubt we are witnessing a deliberate escalation of the current conflict by the government and its supporters. This could cost them dear for a number of reasons.

Attempts to blame the ‘reformist’ opposition seem to have backfired. There is a consensus even amongst the regime’s supporters that Mir-Hossein Moussavi, ayatollah Mohammad Khatami and Mehdi Karroubi, who boast of being the genuine disciples of Khomeini, had little to do with the ‘desecration’ and, of course, if it is true that the imam’s picture was deliberately set on fire by hard-line fundamentalists for political gain, they will be the losers in this piece of theatre. It should also be noted that some of Khomeini’s family, including his grandchildren, are involved in the opposition reformist movement.

Putting so much focus to the affair carries its own risks. Now that there is nothing sacred about the image of “the imam”, the Islamic Republic’s icons, values and therefore legitimacy are clearly being called into question. In fact many amongst Iran’s young population never had any ‘respect’ for Khomeini in the first place and this incident might make them braver and more determined in challenging every aspect of the Islamic regime.

Each day that goes by, the gap between the protesters and the leaders of the ‘green movement’ increases. The statements of Moussavi, Khatami and Karroubi expressing allegiance to Khomeini will not go down well with many of their own supporters. Moussavi is clearly concerned that he is losing control of the protests, as he keeps warning everyone about the threat of “radicalism”. On Monday December 15 he said: “If people’s questions were answered and they were not confronted violently, we would not see some of the controversial moves today ... People want an end to the security-obsessed atmosphere: in such an atmosphere radicalism grows.”

Vote rigging

Of course, he is right about the increased radicalisation of the protests. The first demonstrations in June were in opposition to vote-rigging. Many of the slogans addressed the issue of electoral fraud and were against Ahmadinejad. The supreme leader’s support for his president radicalised the movement, as slogans against the vali faghih (Khamenei) started to become more prominent in September and October, despite attempts by ‘reformists’ to seek compromises with him.

The demonstration of November 4 was very different from those in the summer. Slogans against the entire regime and in particular against Khamenei dominated the marches, not only in Tehran, but also in dozens of other cities. By December 7 the slogans were almost entirely against the supreme leader - it was as though Ahmadinejad did not matter any more. Students shouted, “Moussavi is an excuse! The entire regime is the target!” That is why, even if the ‘desecration’ of Khomeini’s image was staged by the ultra-conservatives, it nevertheless marks a new phase in the protests, one from which both factions of the regime and the protesters cannot retreat. Ironically this stupid stunt, probably devised by Ahmadinejad supporters, is a risk too far. As one commentator put it this week, what will happen at the next protest? Will they burn the Koran?

The regime has also faced an online backlash after the state’s news agency published a picture of student activist Majid Tavakoli dressed in a chador, a black, head-to-toe garment worn by Iranian women, as he was trying to escape arrest by the security forces. Hundreds of men, amongst them well known authors, film directors, artists and academics posted pictures of themselves on the internet wearing women’s headscarves as a political statement. The regime claimed Tavakoli had been caught wearing the veil in an attempt to hide himself. However, opposition bloggers insisted that the photo as published had been manipulated. The government was hoping the pictures would humiliate Majid Tavakoli, presumably because all ‘macho’ men would see the picture as a sign of shame and weakness. Again the scheme backfired: Iranian men of all ages seemed proud to be photographed in headscarves, and Tavakoli’s last speech before his arrest is becoming one of the most popular Youtube videos of the recent upsurge.

Tens of thousands of students have continued their protests throughout Iran. Over the weekend youth and workers joined them and further swelled the numbers. It should be noted that, whilst the major media pick up on one or two big protests, there are others taking place every day in varying forms. One only has to search Youtube or the endless blogs from Iranian students to get a sense of the size and scope of the movement.

Respect MP George Galloway said on June 15 that the protests “will soon fizzle out”.1 How wrong he was. This week actions have taken place at universities in Isfahan, Tehran (where students have begun a hunger strike against the arrest of their comrades and have staged protests to call for the resignation of the principal), Qazvin, Kerman, Al-Zahra, Shiraz, Beheshti (where some brave students waved a red flag), Sharif and Shahroud. High school students in Tehran and Isfahan have also taken to the streets; young women are at the forefront of these demonstrations, with several inspiring videos captured on mobile phones and distributed across the internet.2

Officially the regime says that they arrested 204 students during last week’s protests. However, this figure is a lot lower than the reality, as many students were taken to secret detention centres - and a large number of arrests continued to take place afterwards. The show trials that followed the June protests have now been taken off air, but 80 people have been sentenced to prison terms and five have been given the death penalty.

Long-time imprisoned student Mohommad Pourabdollah was sentenced to six years in prison by the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary court. A member of the leftwing Students for Freedom and Equality, he was arrested on February 12 and has spent a large part of his incarceration in solitary confinement and has been tortured by guards and interrogators. His heavy sentence is no doubt intended as a message to students in the opposition movement who raise their head above the parapet.

The solidarity movement needs to condemn these arrests and call for the immediate release of comrade Pourabdollah, a committed anti-imperialist, along with all other political prisoners in Iran. On December 18 Iranian students from the newly established Independent Left Students are set to confront Ahmadinejad at the Copenhagen climate conference.

Nuclear trigger

Iran’s nuclear programme has again been the focus of media attention, with the regime testing its medium-range missile, the Sejil-2, on December 16. The Sejil-2 has an alleged range that could hit Israel and all US military bases in the region. This comes in the same week that intelligence agencies leaked documents to The Times claiming the regime is continuing its nuclear weapons programme.3 The document apparently describes the design of the trigger device involving uranium deuteride, which has no civilian use. This comes as talks between the Islamic Republic and the west have ground to a halt.

Irrespective of the truth of the allegations, it is quite clear that the regime is seeking to use the threat of more sanctions and military action by the US or Israel to strengthen its faltering position, and the left should be very clear: any further sanctions that are imposed on Iran will hit those elements that are capable of bringing substantial change in Iran - the working class and the poor. Gordon Brown has already said that further sanction have to be implemented. This is something the anti-war movement must take seriously. Sanctions against Iran are a stepping stone to military aggression.

  2. See, for example,
  3. The Times December 14.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Entire regime is the target

Entire regime is the target

Opposition in Iran is no longer directed at supporting one section of the theocracy against the other. The days of the regime are numbered, say Yassamine Mather and Chris Strafford

The 56th anniversary of the murder of three students by the shah?s security forces during vice president Richard Nixon?s visit to Tehran in 1953 may prove to be the last Students Day commemorated under the heel of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hundreds of thousands of students, youth and workers took to the streets in protest against the regime and the barbaric repression meted out since the June elections. Though hard to confirm, the protests to mark Azar 16 (December 7 in the Iranian calendar) could be the largest since millions came out immediately after the rigged presidential poll. Demonstrations took place in Tehran, Isfahan, Mashhad, Arak, Karaj, Orumieh, Kerman, Rasht, Shiraz, Ahvaz, Kermanshah and Hamedan and there have been reports of soldiers protesting at Qom airbase. People taking part in the various actions carried Iranian flags, but without the Islamic Republic?s sign of Allah, showing that the movement is moving beyond the slogans of the ?reformists?.

In preparation for these demonstrations the regime formed lines of police, Bassij paramilitaries and Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) around the universities, squares and monuments in the major cities, and foreign correspondents were warned to stay away from all protests. The authorities put up long drapes outside the main gate of Tehran University (at least 20 metres long and three metres high) to stop passers-by witnessing protests planned inside the campus. The government also attempted to limit internet access, with up to 50% of attempts failing to connect. However, the regime is simply unable to stop the flood of information that is now on hundreds of blogs, twitter and news sites. At one point the Bassij were seen frantically searching computer rooms at Tehran Polytechnic University in an attempt to stop pictures and videos coming out. Mobile phone networks were also shut down in central Tehran and restricted in other parts of the city, but still activists managed to spread news of the protests and relay information about road blocks and meet-up points. Once again the Iranian youth have shown the world that the state cannot keep a lid on protests and unrest.

Throughout the length and breadth of Iran students demonstrated. Even in small towns and cities far away from Tehran thousands took part. This was by far the biggest and most widespread student protest since the revolution in 1979. At Hamedan University, where there were heavy clashes between students and security forces, two students were thrown from the second floor by the Bassij - reports indicate that both sustained severe injuries. At Tehran Polytechnic University students broke down gates that the Bassij had locked to stop crowds outside the campus joining the student protestors.

Students clashed with the police and managed to repel them for a considerable time. They were shouting, ?Marg Bar Khamenei? (Down with Khamenei!), as the focus of popular anger shifts from Ahmadinejad onto the supreme leader and the entire Islamic Republic. At hospitals in the capital police with dogs prevented injured people from entering, arresting and beating those who looked like protestors. In Amir-Kabir University students were also savagely beaten by security forces, and a prominent student leader, Majid Tavakoli, was arrested. At the Medical College in Tehran, Bassij thugs attempted to break up a demonstration and viciously assaulted several students - there were reports of people being badly injured at this demonstration too. At Razi University in Kermanshah militia and police had a massive presence, but failed to stop the student demonstration. At Sanati University in Isfahan student protests were attacked by security forces. Professors at Beheshti University joined with the 2,000-strong protest, to scenes of massive cheering and chants of ?Death to the dictator?.

In Kurdistan students burned images of Ali Khamenei and the first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini. Here the protests were particularly focused on the murder of socialist fighter Ehsan Fattahian, who was executed on November 11. School students have also taken part in the demonstrations - at a high school for girls in Tehran the students gathered outside the gates chanting slogans.

There was heavy fighting across Tehran, with students at times getting the better of the security forces and militia. At Khaje-Nasir University Bassij carrying Hezbollah flags were attacked and thrown out by brave students. Outside Tehran University, in the streets approaching Enghelab Square and Valiasr Street security forces opened fire - it is not clear whether they were warning shots or aimed at the crowd, but some reports claim that students were shot. It seems that around Enghelab Square the Bassij abandoned their positions and vehicles, which were swiftly used to form burning barricades by the youth.

There were also reports of security forces refusing to attack demonstrators and at times accepting drinking water from students who were calling for them to join the protests. In another significant development, it is said that riot police actually turned against the Bassij who were attacking demonstrators. If this wavering from security forces and the stories of soldiers? demonstrations are confirmed, then this will certainly undermine the regime?s confidence in its ability to suppress protests and may possibly signal an acceleration of its collapse

Proving that the protests go far beyond the student movement, elderly women dodged bullets and tear gas to bring water, sandwiches and first aid to the student demonstrators. Some were set upon by militia. Wherever fighting was taking place, residents rushed to aid the students and young workers and many formed voluntary medical groups, helping the injured into nearby homes and distributing water to crowds. Many workers joined the demonstrations after finishing work, swelling the numbers in central Tehran and other cities.

Many students posting on social networking sites have been asking, ?Where are the reformists?? The mass movement still mobilises behind the green of Mir-Hossein Mousavi?s presidential campaign, yet it seems he has abandoned the movement he helped stir up. Students across Tehran chanted: ?Moussavi is an excuse: the entire regime is the target? - the ?reformists? have been made acutely aware that the movement is now far beyond their control.

Protests continued into the evening, with sporadic clashes between demonstrators and police. The state news agency put the total of arrests at 204, though the number was probably higher - many students were taken to undisclosed locations and denied contact with their family.

On December 8, as students arrived at Tehran University, Bassij and Pasdaran were waiting. Soon there were fresh clashes and tear gas was fired not just into the crowds demonstrating outside, but also into the campus itself. Later the Bassij entered the university and encountered fierce resistance. That day there were several other clashes across the country, involving tens of thousands of students.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Statement by Iran Khodro Workers

Fellow workers and friends,

During the last few days tens of workers, students and grieving mothers [a reference to mothers of young people killed following protest gatherings on December 4] have been arrested and sent to jail. Many of our colleagues and fellow workers are in prison. Tens of students, who are our children and our allies, are incarcerated. Mothers have been held. The government is closing its eyes to reality and arresting anyone they want. The country is under the grip of security forces and people do not even have the right to gather in a public park.

- In which country is it illegal to demand payment of unpaid wages?

- In which country is it forbidden to go to a park or to climb mountains? [The regime has banned students from climbing in case they organise political meetings under the guise of mountain climbing]

- What is the crime of our grieving mothers?

- In which country is it illegal to form workers’ organisations?

Fellow workers, how dare they be so shameless? We must protest! The situation created by the government is unbearable. Freedom is a basic right of all human beings

Long live freedom!

Group of Iran Khodro Workers
Translated and distributed by Hands Off the People of Iran

Massive protests in Iran December 7

16 Azar: Student protests accelerate regimes collapse

“Mousavi is an excuse, the entire regime is the target”

The 56th anniversary of a murder of a student by the Shah’s security forces during President Nixon’s visit in 1953 may prove to be the last held under the heel of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Possibly millions of students, youth and workers took to the streets in protests against the regime and the barbaric repression since the rigged June elections. Though hard to confirm, today’s protests could be the biggest since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Protests have taken place in Tehran, Isfahan, Mashhad, Arak, Karaj, Orumieh, Kerman, Rasht, Shiraz, Ahvaz, Kermanshah and Hamedan and there have been reports of soldiers protesting at Qom Airbase. Protestors carried Iranian flags that omitted the Allah sign showing that the movement is moving beyond the slogans of the June protests.

In preperation for these demonstrations the regime formed lines of police, Basij and Pasdaran around the universities, squares and monuments in the major cities. The government also attempted to limit internet access with up-to 50% of attempts to connect failing, however, the regime failed to stop the flood of information that is now on hundreds of blogs, twitter and news sites. The mobile phone network was also shut down in central Tehran and limited in other parts of the city. At one point there Basij were scene frantically searching computer rooms at Tehran Polytechnic University in an attempt to stop pictures and videos coming out. Protestors managed to organise the protests and relay information of road blocks etc through the internet and land lines in defiance of the government. Once again the Iranian youth has shown the world that the state cannot keep a lid on protests and unrest.

Repression and Resistance
On the streets the state repressive forces backed up by militia assaulted and arrested protestors but were met with courage and defiance.

At Hamedan University two students were thrown from the second floor by Basij scum, reports indicate that both students have sustained severe injuries. There were also heavy clashes between students and security forces here. At the hospitals in Tehran police with dogs prevented injured protestors from entering, arrested and attacking people who looked like protestors. At Amir Kabir University students were savagely beaten by security forces, where a prominent student leader; Majid Tavakoli was arrested. At the Medical College in Tehran Basij thugs attempted to break up a demonstration beating several students, there were reports of some badly injured protestors at this demonstration. At the Polytechnic University students clashed with the police and managed to repel them for a time shouting “Marg Bar Khamanei” (Down with Khamanei!) as the focus of popular anger shifts from Ahmadinejad and onto the Supreme Leader and the entire Islamic Republic. At Razi University in Kermanshah militia and police had a massive presence but failed to stop the student demonstration. At Sanati University in Isfahan in Kermanshah student protests were attacked by security forces. Professors at Beheshti University joined with the 2,000 strong protest to scenes of massive cheering and chants of ‘Death to the Dictator’. In Kurdistan students burned images of Khomanei and Khamanei in the University, they were also protesting the murder of socialist fighter Ehsan Fattahian who was executed on the 11th November. There were protests and clashes at Azad Shahrkord University, Elm o Sanat University, Sharif University, Azad University of Mashhad, Azad University of Najafabad, Sanati University in Isfahan, Hormozgan University, University of Zanjan, Yasooj University and others. School students have also taken part in the demonstrations, at a high school for girls in Tehran they gathered and chanted slogans, the video is below.

There was heavy fight across Tehran with students turning the tide against security forces and militia at times. Basij who were carrying Hezbollah flags were attacked and thrown out of Khaje-Nasir University by brave students. Outside Tehran University, the streets approaching Enghelab Square and Valiasr Street saw shots fired by security forces, it is not clear whether they were warning shots or fired into the crowd, some reports claim that some students have been shot. There were reports of security forces refusing to attack students and at times taking water from students who were calling for them to join the protests. It also seems that around Enghelab Square Basij abandoned their positions and vehicles which were swiftly used to form burning barricades by the youth. It has been reported that riot police attacked Basij who were attacking demonstrators. If this wavering from security forces and demonstrations from soldiers are confirmed then this could undermine the regimes confidence in its ability to suppress the protests and may possibly signal an acceleration of the regimes collapse.

Proving that the protests go far beyond the student movement, elderly women dodged bullets and tear gas to bring water, sandwhiches and first aid to the student demonstrators. Some were attacked by security forces, one women was beat savagely by Basij thugs. Below is the video of her after the attack:

Where fighting was taking place residents rushed to aid the students and young workers and many have formed voluntary medical groups, helping the injured into nearby homes and distributing water to crowds. Many workers joined the demonstrations after finishing work swelling the numbers in central Tehran and other cities.

Many students posting on social networking sites Twitter and Facebook have been asking where are the reformists? The mass movement has kept the colour of Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s presidential campaign yet it seems he has abandoned the movement he helped to stir up. As students chanted across Tehran “Mousavi is an excuse, the entire regime is the target” the reformists will have been made acutely aware that the movement is far beyond their control now.

Protests have continued on into the evening with sporadic clashes between protestors and police. It is unclear how many have been arrested today, though we expect it to be in the hundreds. The workers movement internationally must get serious in organising solidarity and demanding the immediate release of all of those who are in prison and secret detention sites. An analysis of todays events and a wider report will be posted shortly.

No way back for warmongers

No way back for warmongers

Mike Macnair addressed the Hopi AGM on the continued threat of war. US imperialism has a new face, but when it comes to foreign policy it is business as usual

It should now be clear enough to everyone that Barack Obama’s policy in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan is for all practical purposes the same as that of George W Bush.

True, in its propaganda the new administration presents itself as much less gung-ho and unilateral, preferring to focus on the ‘common interests of the international community’ and so on. True, too, during the last summer there was a pause or toning-down in the drumbeats of threats against Iran, as the US clearly hoped the mass movement around the rigged elections would produce a ‘colour revolution’. Nevertheless, sanctions remain high on the agenda, diplomatic pressure is intense and the threat of a bombing strike, ostensibly to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, is still a serious one.

In response to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s November 26 resolution condemning the Qom enrichment facility, the Iranian regime has - for domestic political reasons - declared an extension of its nuclear programme. Obama has announced that most of the additional US soldiers demanded by general McChrystal for a ‘troop surge’ - ie, escalation - in Afghanistan, will be sent. The last few days has seen the British government agree to increase its contingent by 500 extra troops and other Nato powers are being urged to follow suit.

Sanctions represent an extremely serious threat to the people of Iran. It is important to be clear that sanctions are a clinical word for what is in fact military blockade. Blockade of trade is an act of war. Not as sharp and immediate as dropping bombs, to be sure. But if an army were to surround London and, while allowing food and medical supplies in, refused to let in petrol and so on, no-one would have any hesitation describing that as an act of war. It is a form that has existed since classical antiquity and before: a siege. In essence, ‘sanctions’ are a euphemism for besieging a country.

Not Bush, the warmonger, but US state interests lie behind US policy in the Middle East. It does not make any difference having a Democrat and a black face in the White House if those state interests continue to determine the underlying structure of US policy.

What are those interests? One - the Carter doctrine, dating formally to 1980 - asserts that “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force”. “Outside force”, in this context, obviously does not include the US!

But the Carter doctrine itself is part of a larger body of ideas. Consider, for example, the 2008 book Chinese naval strategy in the 21st century: the turn to Mahan by James R Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, professors at the US naval academy. What is of interest in this context is less the authors’ arguments about the policy of the Chinese state than the US naval doctrine they assume, adopted in the late 1940s - that the US navy must have access to all the world’s coastlines and shipping lanes. It follows naturally enough that any denial of access by the US navy to the coast of China is an immediate threat to US security - and Holmes and Yoshihara say so openly. They raise the appalling possibility of China having enough naval strength to defend its own territorial waters - and claim that this would be a threat to US security.

There is nothing particularly novel in this idea. In the late Middle Ages Venice - even as an interstitial merchant-capitalist state within a predominantly feudal society - felt compelled to have a naval policy which would give it unrestricted access to and control of the whole of the eastern Mediterranean. The Dutch Republic in the 17th century aimed for global dominance and ability to strike with naval power in Spanish waters. After the displacement of the Netherlands as the ‘lead capitalist power’ by Britain in the wars between 1689 and 1713, the doctrine became fully transparent. The British navy aimed at global dominance and access to shores anywhere in the world.

Capitalism is from its inception an international system. From its inception a capitalist state has to be concerned about access to raw materials and its ability to protect its shipping for export purposes. Therefore from the beginning there is a necessary choice facing every leading capitalist state - aim for global top-dog status or accept a subordinate military position. Thus the Netherlands after 1714 accepted a subordinate position to Britain, while after 1945 the latter deferred to the US.

Why does capitalism have to have this hierarchy? Ultimately because capitalism - even very primitive and proto-capitalism - needs credit money, and that necessarily involves the state. For full development of capitalism, the scale of credit money operations involved requires the central bank and the central market in state bonds, whether this be the Venetian, Amsterdam, London or New York money market.

And at the same time, because capitalism is an international phenomenon, money - as Marx stated - is only money to the extent that it is global money. So capitalism as a world system necessarily aspires to a world state, which it never achieves. What it gets is a nation-state which partially plays - as a proxy - the role of a world state. Hence, a capitalist country which is progressing in terms of capitalist industrial development is forced in the direction of becoming the world state, the top dog, the state which can maintain a navy capable of touching anywhere in the world. Military success in this competition makes the top-dog state’s money into world money.

But this in its turn has its own logic. In the first place, to win and maintain world military dominance requires consent from important sections of the subordinate classes in the dominant state. It is highly skilled workers who have to both manufacture the ships and armaments and crew them. Concessions must be made to these classes in order to maintain such consent and the domestic political stability that brings.

Secondly, it costs money. There is a massive tax bill associated with providing a navy (and, since the 20th century, air force) which can outfight those of any other two (or more) states in the world. That tax bill has got larger and larger as capitalism has developed and the technology of warfare has got more and more expensive.

The consequence, therefore, is that the underlying profitability of industry in the dominant capitalist state declines, both because of concessions which have been made to the working class and because of the overall tax burden. The dominant state now needs to convert its dominance into extracting tribute from subordinate states. Its internal dynamics of world dominance lead to the export of capital and the rise of industrial production in other countries, as opposed to the world dominant state, and an increase in the practice of skimming the cream from global financial transactions - exploiting monetary dominance to bring in the funds which enable the dominant state to continue supporting the armed forces, which in turn enables that state to continue to be financially dominant.

The effect of world dominance is thus to undermine the industrial dominance on which it was originally based. The imposing structure of military-financial dominance becomes increasingly hollow, while other capitalist countries grow up as centres of industrial and technical development. There is no road back. Like Macbeth, any dominant power of this sort is “in blood stepped in so far that ... returning were as tedious as go o’er”. The dominant state’s only practical option is to step up the exploitation of its military and financial dominance and its global property claims, to go further towards the role of world parasite.

The increasing disjuncture which results from, on the one hand, the increasing financial and property claims of the world power and, on the other, the decline of its domestic industry results in a decreasing ability of the world dominant power to actually act as a global policeman and provide order for the world capitalist economy. This drives other powers towards developing their own military capabilities and their own bilateral relations with other countries. In the later 19th century in relation to Britain, that meant the rise of rival colonial powers; today we have other powers increasingly pursuing their own bilateral relations - notably China with large numbers of South American countries and in Africa. China is visible and obvious because the bourgeois press wants us to know about these things: the capitalist media wants us to worry about China. But it is also happening with the continental European powers and their relations with various countries in the ‘south’.

The US has entered into the first phase of its decline. But we are not in 1913, or even 1900, or 1890. Rather the US has entered into decline in the same sense as Britain entered decline after the 1853-56 Crimean War. The phase takes a different form from the decline of Britain, which was characterised by the growth of European territorial empires. It took that form because Britain’s Indian empire allowed access to the enormous Indian military labour market. As a consequence Britain was able to use the combination of its navy and Indian troops to establish territorial power all across the world and the other European countries were forced to imitate Britain in that respect.

With the US, the dynamic has been very different. The turning point - the Crimea of the US - was Vietnam. At that moment the US lost the ability to impose order by direct military intervention. What has replaced that policy is one of exporting destruction - Lebanon, Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Yugoslavia, etc, etc. The US combines in various ways support for insurgents of one sort or another against local states; US strategic bombing activities; and blockades (‘sanctions’) to break down the structure of states. The US is not able to impose pro-United States regimes, but is able to punish those who are seen in some way to defy it.

The effect of exporting destruction is still to levy tribute from the subordinate countries. On the one hand, it makes direct French, German and so on investment in the regions targeted for US attack unattractive. Global capital is sucked into the US financial and other markets as a ‘safe haven’; US capitalists, on the other hand, can better afford to take the risks of investing in ‘emerging markets’ which may become US targets.

The attempt to conquer Iraq was in part an attempt by the neo-conservatives to change that: to turn US policy into a policy of ‘constructively imposing order’. But it failed - the outcome is not a pro-US regime, but a pro-Iranian regime perched on a chaotic society. Why did it fail? In the first place the US would have had to put four times the number of troops on the ground as were actually available to ensure order; secondly it would have to be willing to give up resources to the material reconstruction of Iraqi industry and infrastructure.

But in reality the US cannot put a million troops on the ground. US imperialism represents a decline in capitalism as such relative to British imperialism and has to make more concessions to the working class than British imperialism in its world-dominant phase ever had to make. With the result that going overseas to fight and die for ‘your’ country is unattractive to the working class. They call it the ‘Vietnam syndrome’ ...

Equally, US capital decreasingly wishes to engage in constructive activities: it is increasingly a parasite which looks to suck on the teat of state support. $56 billion is what the US claims to have spent on Iraqi reconstruction, but the Iraqis have seen hardly any of this. Iraq has seen ‘private finance initiative’ on the largest possible scale, with far more money poured into corruption, thrown away and stolen by the contractors, and far less delivered on the ground by the contractors themselves. So the US proves unable to turn away from the policy of exporting destruction to the policy of imposing order.

The question of US policy towards Iran, therefore, has to be seen within the framework of the Iraq debacle. This places the US under severe threat of being seen to be defeated. All the more is this true of the continuing failure in Afghanistan. Obama’s administration has wavered over what policy to follow and whether to send more troops. But in reality there was no real choice. If the US is seen to be defeated in the Middle East 34 years after being seen to be defeated in Vietnam, there will inevitably be an acceleration of the growth of rival bilateral relations between countries in the global north and the global south. Not rival empires, but rival direct investments and rival naval and air rearmament. That will follow, as night follows day, from the US being seen to be defeated.

And that means the question of an attack on Iran is inevitably on the agenda. Because that is the direction in which decline drives the US. It is obliged to expand the scope of its ‘war on terror’, even as it fails, to avoid being seen to be defeated. This is why Obama’s Middle East policy is essentially the same as Bush’s. However much important capitalists and senior state figures, in the US and the US’s allies, may think that the neocons were irrational, that it would have been better not to invade Iraq and that it might be better to seek a deal with the Iranian regime, there is now no way back for the United States from the policy of escalation.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

HOPI Britain conference report

Chris Strafford reports on the annual general meeting of Hands Off the People of Iran
On Saturday November 28 around 60 people gathered for Hands Off the People of Iran’s third conference. Motions condemning sanctions and threats of war against Iran and calling for a nuclear-free Middle East were overwhelmingly carried

The conference was opened by national secretary Mark Fischer (CPGB), who outlined Hopi’s strengths as well as weaknesses. Whilst we have gained some smaller affiliations over the last year, we have not made a big breakthrough and it is important for Hopi to “up its game”, he said. The June elections in Iran and subsequent mass protests were “a defining political moment” in the history of the Islamic Republic, which totally vindicated Hopi’s stance.

Hopi has always called for the building of strong links between the democratic and revolutionary movements in Iran, whilst others in the movement - most notably the Socialist Workers Party, George Galloway and the sycophants that surround him - previously attacked us for ‘trying to dictate to the movement in Iran’. Some had even accused us of playing into the hands of imperialism for daring to criticise the theocratic regime. SWP members were left looking red-faced and sheepish when the leadership realised the way the wind was blowing and made a U-turn, coming out in favour of the millions of protestors who marched through the streets of Tehran and other cities (although SWP comrades on the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition continue to oppose Hopi’s affiliation). Galloway, however, has simply made himself look idiotic by defending not only the rigged elections and the subsequent repression, but also the Islamic republic itself.

Comrade Fischer went on to report our successful Hopi v Labour Representation Committee cricket match, which raised £1,000 for Workers’ Fund Iran, an organisation which aids workers in struggle and their organisations. He spoke briefly about our priorities over the coming year - firstly, building genuine internationalism through helping organisations like WFI; secondly, stepping up our campaign against sanctions; and, thirdly, developing our national infrastructure and branches, with the possibility of employing someone on a part-time basis.

Jim Jepps (Green Party), Hopi’s treasurer, gave a quick report on the current state of our finances, which he described as “modest” - we spent more than we raised last year. In the discussion Charlie Pottins (Jewish Socialist Group) urged Hopi to attend more demonstrations called outside the Iranian embassy, David Mather (Hopi Glasgow) said that Hopi needs to build its internet profile.

The next session was titled ‘Imperialism’s need for conflict and the situation in the Middle East’ with Moshé Machover (Matzpen founder) and Mike Macnair (CPGB). Comrade Macnair discussed US doctrine in the Middle East and its need as the imperialist hegemon to have undisputed military dominance. This means that, whatever Barack Obama may want to do, he is forced by events and the needs of US capital to carry on the strategy developed under the Bush government (for comrade Macnair’s speech, see 'No way back for warmongers').

Comrade Machover began his contribution by saying that Hopi should congratulate itself on putting forward the correct line against imperialist threats and sanctions, while supporting the movements in Iran. He said that the two major events of the last year were the elections in Iran and the election of Barack Obama. The US did not recognise that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan would strengthen the regime in Tehran and did not rule out the possibility that both wings of the regime could capitulate or do a deal with the American administration. However, the threat of war is growing - author Benny Morris, who is essentially acting as an unofficial spokesperson for the Israeli government, has warned that an Israeli attack on Iran is a foregone conclusion for the spring and summer of next year. Comrade Machover ended his speech by moving his motion, ‘For a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other WMDs’.

An amendment from Tina Becker (CPGB) to delete the demand for “democratic international supervision” of the decommissioning and non-development of all nuclear weapons and other WMDs on the grounds that it might be misunderstood to mean under the auspices of the United Nations. Peter Manson (CPGB) proposed an amendment from the floor to make it specific that Hopi is opposed to Iran attaining a nuclear weapon, the so-called ‘mullah’s bomb’. But this was rejected as unnecessary, as the motion’s opposition to the “development and manufacture of nuclear weapons” throughout the Middle East obviously included Iran.

The motion was opposed outright by Gerry Downing (Socialist Fight), who pursued the long established error of some in the Trotskyist movement of defending the ’mullah’s bomb’ on the lines that it would ward off attacks from the US and Israel and may one day become a “workers’ bomb”. He condemned the whole motion as “pacifist”.

John Bridge (CPGB) attacked comrade Downing’s defence of Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions by asking what kind of “workers’ bomb” it is that massacres workers. If the Soviet Union ever had used weapons against major cities in the US, the result would have been a massacre of the working class, the only force capable of stopping the drive to war and replacing capitalism with socialism, under which such weapons would be dismantled. A rewording of the demand for “democratic international supervision” was passed and the section was kept in the original motion, which passed overwhelmingly with only comrade Downing opposing.

After a quick lunch break comrades returned to the second session, which was opened by Marsha-Jane Thompson from the Labour Representation Committee, who read out a message of continued support from her organisation and John McDonnell MP. The session was presented by Cyrus Bina, author of Modern capitalism and Islamic ideology in Iran. Comrade Bina’s talk was titled ‘Why sanctions are not a “soft alternative” to war’ and he started by saying he considers himself a follower of Karl Marx. He said that sanctions are supplementary to war, and that they often are a precursor to military action and used to break the industrial base and civil society of countries in the sights of the imperialists.

He slammed those who said that demonstrations in Iran following the rigged elections had been made up of the middle classes, pointing out that on one occasion there were over three million on the streets. Comrade Bina went to say that sanctions hurt the workers and the poor far more than they damage the regime and even so-called “smart sanctions” would be detrimental to the lives of ordinary Iranians. The movement that has risen in Iran has international implications and it is important for socialists to build solidarity with its working class and progressive component.

The third session was introduced by Hopi chair Yassamine Mather (CPGB), who spoke on the session entitled ’Iran’s workers’ movement since the June 2009 elections’, and went on to move her motion against both sanctions and war. Comrade Mather explained that the oil workers, who were responsible for bringing the shah’s regime to its knees, have once again been discussing whether to strike or whether such action now would hit the working class and poor more than the regime - not least because an energy strike coupled with sanctions could result in power cuts and reduction in fuel for heating, when people need it most. The oil workers do not want to be seen as “part of US policy”.

During the discussion a leftwing supporter of the green movement in Iran argued that sanctions in Iraq had pushed the people towards a reactionary government and would similarly strengthen the faltering regime in Iran. Andrew Coates (Hopi Ipswich) argued that Hopi has and should continue to undercut those who argue that Ahmadinejad is some kind of progressive or defend the regime because it is nominally anti-imperialist. Comrade Mather said that the reformists are getting very nervous about the protests, as they have become more radical and have evolved from simple calls for a rerun of the elections to outright rejection of the Islamic republic. The resolution was passed unanimously.

The third motion, ‘Day of solidarity with Iranian workers’, moved by Ben Lewis (CPGB), called for Hopi fundraising event like this year’s cricket match. This was passed unanimously.

The final motion from Hopi steering committee member Charlie Pottins was titled ‘No to state murders’. Comrade Pottins argued that Hopi and the whole of the movement needs to condemn the murder of oppositionists and stressed the barbarity of the regime against national minorities such as the Kurds. On November 11 Ehsan Fattahian, a Kurdish socialist, was executed by the Islamic Republic. The motion also called for Hopi, while rejecting Zionist and imperialists propaganda that compares the Islamist regime with Hitler fascism, to condemn the hosting of a holocaust denial conference in Tehran. This motion was disputed by several comrades who wanted it referred back to the steering committee for rewording, and some amendments came from the floor. In the end, however, it was passed unaltered by a clear majority.

Overall the day showed Hopi’s strengths and weaknesses. Whilst the events of the past year have vindicated our stand, as opposed to the apologists of the Iranian regime, we now need to move forward by pulling in new forces and ensuring that activists are aided by a strong steering committee and national organisation.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Oil workers take on regime

More than 300 workers in the Abadan oil refinery gathered on Thursday November 12 to protest against non-payment of wages and bonuses, saying they had not been paid for more than three months. Yassamine Mather reports

The refinery authorities associated with what remains of the state-owned Iran National Oil Cohttp company say the workers are employed by a contractor and they cannot do anything about their demands. The protest followed a strike by the whole workforce of 450 involved in the development of Bandar Abbas Oil refinery. This was their third walkout in less than three months and the strike is continuing. The Iranian government’s privatisation plans are notoriously corrupt and generally help empower and enrich the Islamic Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards). But in the oil industry it is different from elsewhere. Privatisation has been undertaken with the aim of dividing workers and hampering national negotiations over wages and conditions, in the knowledge that for oil workers deployed in various sectors of the industry, working for so many different contractors, it would be impossible to negotiate common terms and conditions.

Private ownership of some oil functions is still prohibited under the Iranian constitution, but the government has permitted buy-back contracts, allowing international oil companies to participate in exploration and development through an Iranian affiliate. The contractor receives a remuneration fee, usually an entitlement to oil or gas from the developed operation. Iran’s total refinery capacity in 2008 was about 1.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d), with its nine refineries operated by the National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company. Iranian refineries are unable to keep pace with domestic demand, while the threat of sanctions and removal of fuel subsidies have created price rises and the fear of a shortage of refined fuel.

The current protests are very significant because the Islamic government, wary of the power of oil employees, has so far avoided confrontation with this section of the working class by making sure they receive regular payment and imposing very strict security measures in refineries, services to the oil industry and oil extraction fields.

Iran ranks among the world’s top three holders of both proven oil and natural gas reserves. It is Opec’s second largest producer and exporter after Saudi Arabia, and fourth largest exporter of crude oil globally. Natural gas accounts for half of Iran’s total domestic energy consumption, while the remaining half consists predominantly of oil. The continued exploration and production of the offshore South Pars natural gas field in the Persian Gulf is a key part of the country’s energy sector development plan. Iran has nine oil refineries with a total capacity of 1.4 million bbl/d. They include Abadan, which was one of world’s largest when it was destroyed in 1980 in the Iraq-Iran war. It was also the refinery where the first political strike took place in the late 1970s. Meanwhile, gasoline demand is forecast to grow at around 11.4% per year.1

The Islamic government has not forgotten the significant role of oil workers in the events that led to the February uprising of 1979. In November 1978, a strike by 37,000 workers at Iran’s nationalised oil refineries initially reduced production from six million barrels per day to about 1.5 million. That strike not only cost the government about $60 million a day in oil revenue, but also suddenly raised the spectre of petroleum shortages in Japan, Israel, western Europe and, to a much lesser degree, in the US; all these countries to one extent or another depended at the time on Iranian crude. After a week of strikes and protests, some oil employees went back to work. But the strike played a crucial role in encouraging further militant action and boosted opposition to the regime. It was also significant in asserting the role of the working class in political struggles. The oil workers’ walkout climaxed two months of labour unrest that had spread to nearly every sector of the economy. Demands ranged from pay rises to compensate for spiralling inflation to political reforms, an end to martial law and the release of all remaining political prisoners. A strike of a million civil servants and government workers followed that of the oil workers.

There are many parallels between those strikes and the current unrest amongst oil employees. The present strikes follow weeks of political protests up and down the country. Also Iran’s economic situation is worse than anyone can remember - in addition to rocketing inflation, mass unemployment and systematic non-payment of wages, the new subsidies legislation, passed only a week ago, has already increased the price of basic goods. Everyone is predicting major price hikes.

Bread prices reached 1,000 tomans ($1) in Tehran this week. The newspaper Hemayat said that the two traditional breads, barbari and sangak, were being sold for 600 and 2,000 tomans respectively. The semi-official news agency, ILNA, predicts that both a litre of milk and a kilogram of sugar will soon reach 1,000 tomans. The estimated average wage is around $223 a month, and many workers are not paid for months at a time, while the employer can use the threat of job losses to get away with this form of systematic super-exploitation. In recent statements Iranian workers have once more called for international solidarity and support for their demands - and they are adamant that such support must be from fellow workers. Over the last few years labour activists inside Iran have sometimes been innocent victims of the foolish mistakes of sections of the Iranian ‘left’ that have collaborated with social-imperialist political groups and pro-imperialist, rightwing trade unions.

Those who maintain the principled position of opposing war and sanctions have a duty to show genuine international solidarity with Iranian workers. We can do so by supporting their immediate demands. One of the major organisations trying to unite the current nationwide struggles, the Coordinating Committee to Form Workers’ Organisations, has issued a number of statements regarding recent events, as well as a list of basic demands. Sections of that statement can be summed up as follows:

The Iranian working class is struggling against the entire capitalist system (all factions of the regime). There is a need to safeguard the independence of the working class in the class struggle. Our movement uses the strength of its organised and conscious forces against political power in its totality; that is why workers must unmask ruthlessly the reformist capitalist faction, a faction that misleads workers by creating the illusion of reform within the system.

The unity of the working masses in the struggle against capitalism and the need for promoting its material and moral ability to struggle for the abolition of the wage-slavery system requires that this class initiates its organised and conscious struggle from basic demands as described in the Charter of the Fundamental Demands of the Working Class of Iran.

The main condition for the success of these efforts, including the takeover of factories, the general strike or any struggle for the abolition of capitalist social relations and seizing political power, is the existence of anti-capitalist councils of the working class.

There must be a struggle against unemployment caused by factory closures, against various forms of intensification of exploitation in the workplace. Proposed tactics include taking over closed down factories or those that are on the brink of closing down in the first instance, and strikes in the second instance.

“Based on the above points,” the statement reads, “we call upon all anti-capitalist activists of the working class movement to unite around the following points” for the organisation of the class against capitalism:

Agreement on the basic demands of the working class.

Efforts to form anti-capitalist councils of the working class within workplaces and neighbourhoods.

Unified planning for launching strikes in all centres of work and centres of production.

Preparations for the takeover of factories that have closed down or those on the verge of closing down.

Participation within the current movement, with the aim of forming an independent line for the realisation of the basic demands of the working class.

“Workers, let’s get organised against capital!” concludes the call from the Coordinating Committee to Form Workers’ Organisations.

We in Hands Off the People of Iran must continue our efforts in support of Iranian workers, not just as an act of international solidarity, but as an integral part of our international efforts to confront the economic crisis. Excellent work has been done in 2009, with funds raised by the Fire Brigades Union, Unite, Unison and the RMT, and the efforts of the Labour Representation Committee and Hopi cricket teams. But we must do a lot more in 2010.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Iran: Workers gain new courage

Workers gain new courage

Iranian demonstrations have given a real boost to working class opponents of the regime, writes Yassamine Mather

Every year November 4, the anniversary of the 1979 take-over of the US embassy in Tehran, is marked in Iran with a state-organised demonstration outside the building that used to house the American ambassador and his staff. On that date 30 years ago militant Islamic students stormed the embassy and took 71 hostages. Nineteen were released within weeks, but the remaining 52 were held for 444 days.

The ceremony commemorating the 30th anniversary of the ‘US hostage crisis’ was no different from recent years: a lacklustre ritual addressed by an insignificant minister. However, no-one in Iran will ever forget November 4 2009. It was the day when illegal demonstrations in at least six separate locations in Tehran and 20 cities and university campuses throughout the country overshadowed the state-organised event. As the national broadcasting service was showing live pictures of the gathering outside the former US embassy, shouts of “Death to the dictator” from protesters on neighbouring streets and squares were so loud that it was difficult to hear the minister’s speech. In Tehran the six locations were Enghelab Square, Ferdowsi, Haft Tir, Enghelab Square, Vali Asr and Vanak Square.

Revolutionary guards had issued stern warnings that they would not tolerate any protest demonstrations, and the night before dozens of political activists were arrested. On the morning of November 4 itself, government offices closed their doors at around 10am to stop employees leaving their workplace to join the protests. The ministry of the interior deployed special units of anti-riot police, many on motorbikes, as well as the religious bassij militia, to block main roads, intimidate potential demonstrators and attack any gathering. Yet despite all these measure, by all accounts - including admissions in the pro-Ahmadinejad press - tens of thousands of Iranians joined the protests against the regime.

Highly significant was the absence of any slogans regarding the rigged elections. Four months and 22 days after the June 2009 presidential poll, demonstrators in Iran have clearly moved on. Even the BBC Persian Service, that staunch defender of the ‘green movement’, had to admit in its broadcasts and analyses what most of the left has been saying for some time: as a result of the impasse within the factions of the Islamic regime the protests are no longer about the results of the presidential elections. Protesters are now challenging the very existence of that regime. ‘Reformist’ leaders are tailing the masses.1

The advice of their ‘leaders’ - most of whom, with the exception of presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, did not even dare show their face at the demonstrations - was totally ignored. Fellow ‘reformist’ candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi had spent the previous 10 days warning everyone against “radical” slogans that would only “benefit the enemy”. Yet demonstrators did the exact opposite.

Even the bourgeois media had to admit that the radicalisation of the demonstrations has marked a new phase in the life of the opposition. The main slogans that dominated the day were directed at the supreme leader himself: “Our guardian is a murderer [the supreme leader’s official religious title is ‘guardian of the nation’]. His rule is null and void” (Vali ma ghateleh velayatesh bateleh), plus the usual “Death to Khamenei, death to the Islamic republic”.

The crowds were also at odds with Moussavi over the nuclear issue. In late October he and Karroubi met to discuss the recent US-EU offer to Iran, and made it clear that they considered Ahmadinejad’s response to be a sell-out. Moussavi was quoted by his own website Kalameh as saying: “If the promises given are realised then the hard work of thousands of scientists would be ruined.” Yet for the first time in many years, it looked like the nationalist defenders of a nuclear Iran had no supporters amongst the protesters, whose slogans were very clear: “We don’t want reactors, we don’t want the atomic bomb.”

A week earlier, Moussavi, after a lot of dithering, had called on his supporters to back the November 4 demonstrations, yet on the day he failed to show up at any of the protests. His supporters claimed he was prevented from leaving a cultural centre by the security forces, but witnesses deny this. For all his faults, Karroubi, the 70-year-old cleric, showed more courage. He was prepared to join the demonstrations, even though one of his bodyguards was badly injured and ended up in hospital.

In another qualitative development angry demonstrators tore down posters of Khamenei and trampled all over them in what were unprecedented scenes. The man who is supposed to be god’s representative on earth (for Shia Muslims) was called a murderer and his image defiled by demonstrators wiping their feet on his posters.

Most of all, though, November 4 will be remembered as the day Iranians realised their strength and found the courage to stand up to the regime’s supporters and security forces. A number of bloggers have remarked on how government supporters leaving the official gathering hid memorabilia and photos of the supreme leader that had been dished out at that event when they saw the huge number of protesters in neighbouring streets.

There were many reports and films of the bassij and militia attacking protesters, especially women. However, there were also many incidents where demonstrators confronted those forces and actually got the better of them. In some incidents old women defended young protesters and shamed the security forces into retreating.

Some protesters have also taken up a new chant: “Obama, Obama - either you’re with them or you’re with us.” On the face of it, this does not sound like the most radical of slogans. However, this is a country obsessed with conspiracy theories regarding foreign interference and it was the first time since 1979 that Iranians have directed a slogan at the leader of the hegemon capitalist power in the face of such conspiracy theories. It should be noted that since Irangate2 no-one in Iran takes slogans like “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” shouted at official demonstrations seriously.

A number of foreign reporters were detained, most of whom have now been released, together with an Iranian journalist working for Agence France Presse. The stupid leaders of the regime had thought that by making such arrests they would stop the world hearing about the protests, but the reality is that now Iran has millions of reporters, with their text messages, emails and video footage captured on mobile phones. Perhaps the regime will consider banning all electronic equipment in their desperation to stop the ‘wrong’ news spreading.

The demonstrations have given a real boost to working class opponents of the regime. For the first time in many years they are finding allies in their struggle against the Islamic government. Sections of the left, including Rahe Kargar, have been talking of setting up neighbourhood resistance committees and clearly, given the vicious attacks by security forces on the growing opposition, such committees are necessary. For the first time in many years Iranians are discussing the need for the masses to be armed to confront the state security forces, while maintaining their opposition to ‘militarist’ tactics.

But the regime will not give up easily. More than 200 people were arrested in Tehran and the provinces on or around November 4, while a number of labour activists from the Haft Tapeh sugar cane company have been sent to prison for organising strikes. There are unconfirmed reports that despite many efforts to save the life of Kurdish leader Ehsan Fattahian, he was executed on November 11 in Sanandaj Central Prison. Ehsan’s 10-year prison sentence for membership of an illegal Kurdish organisation was recently changed to execution for no apparent reason.

Hundreds of protesters remain in prison and we must do all we can to support and defend them. Let us step up our solidarity with the working class and democratic opposition.

Respond to this article

  1. See BBC Newsnight report, including interview with BBC Persian Service presenter:
  2. See for a summary of the ‘Iran Contra affair’, also known as ‘Irangate’.

Regime’s most persistent opposition

Ali Pichgah is a veteran of the Iranian oil strikes of 1979-81, when he was a representative of the Tehran refinery workers shora (council) on the National Shora of Oil Workers. He spoke to Yassamine Mather about the current situation in Iran

How do you evaluate the recent political protests and the role of the working class in them?

First of all, I think we have to ask ourselves why the protest against the regime’s rigged elections took such dimensions. I have no doubt that the majority of the population are opposed to the absence of political freedoms in Iran. In particular the youth, who constitute a high percentage of the population, feel contempt for the way the religious state interferes in their private lives. People are losing patience and in general opposition to the regime has reached unprecedented levels.

All these elements led to conditions such that when the regime fixed its own sham election protesters took to the streets. But let us not forget that there is nothing new in the expression of dissatisfaction with or opposition to this regime and this is not the first time one faction has resorted to fraud during what the regime calls an electoral process. I think what is different this time is the terrible economic situation. Inflation above 25%, mass unemployment, the growing gap between rich and the poor ... and from this point of view one can say that the relentless workers’ struggles of the last two years against job losses and poverty, against non-payment of wages (which has become one of Iranian capitalists’ favoured method of increasing profits), as well as the demonstrations by teachers, nurses and so on against the economic policies of the government, were precursors to the huge demonstrations we saw this summer.

Of course, many of these protests were defensive (wage-earners trying to maintain what little they had), yet the working class has remained the most persistent opposition to the entire regime over the last few years, in the run-up to June 2009.

Coincidently we see the continuation of the mass protests of early summer in the unprecedented level of workers’ struggles in recent weeks, the victory of the Iran Khodro workers (where the regime clearly retreated), the revolutionary tactics of Pars Wagon workers (from ransacking the refectory to mounting hunger strikes), workers bringing their families along to demonstrations ...

How do you explain the continuation of these protests when it appears one faction of the regime has defeated the other faction, at least for the time being?

Ordinary people - and here I mean wage-workers, irrespective of whether they are workers, clerks, teachers or this army of millions of unemployed - have nothing to lose but their poverty. That is why they come out onto the streets as soon as an occasion arises, such as for the recent Quds day [Palestine Day - September 18] or in front of their factory, their workplace, sometimes in front of where they used to work. As I said before, it is the economic situation that has given impetus to the current political opposition to the regime.

In some ways we could say this summer’s political struggles took place against the background of an unprecedented economic crisis, which is inevitably linked to the international economic crisis. Any crisis unleashes its own class struggles and, of course, world capitalism has a long experience of transferring the worst effects of such crises to countries of the periphery. But Iran’s parasitic and corrupt capitalist economy paved the way for a major intensification of its economic problems. If you add this background to the existing political discontent, it is not difficult to understand why protests are continuing.

I am sure you are aware that people talk of the absence of the working class from the political arena in Iran and it is interesting that you rebuff such views. But I wanted to know what workers, especially in the oil industry, think of the current political upheaval.

Let me emphasise this once again: the working class was not only present in the demonstrations against the regime and the government from day one (June 12), but it was protesting long before it.

However, recent events mean the situation has changed a bit. First of all, the number of workers’ protests has increased considerably (and, of course, this has something to do with the worsening economic situation), but more significantly during the last few months their struggles have moved from defensive to more aggressive forms - for example, amongst car workers. You have to remember that participation in workers’ protests is far more dangerous than going on a street demonstration. Your name, address, work details are known to the factory owner and the security forces and the minimum problem you face is losing your job - a serious matter when a high percentage of the workforce is unemployed. Yet with all these dangers we see a manifold increase in workers’ protests, so no-one should talk about the absence of the Iranian working class.

However sections of the working class and in particular oil workers are well aware of their historic role. Older workers remember the strikes of the late 1970s, which played a crucial role in the people’s struggles. The younger oil workers (I should say oil employees, because they all participated) have heard about the significance of the oil workers’ intervention in the struggles of 1979 from older workers. But the reason why they haven’t gone on strike is quite specific.

First of all, they are concerned that in the current political climate a strike might benefit the reformist faction of the regime and, of course, this faction is our class enemy as much as the conservatives - they only discovered the need to defend democracy when they themselves faced repression. There have been many discussions amongst oil workers about this issue, which are still continuing. The other concern is that the strike should take place only when there is coordination between all the refineries to make sure there is a successful nationwide action.

In 1981 we wanted to go on strike in protest against the political situation [the first mass arrests of leftwingers, the execution of political activists, the banning of secular and left organisations]. Some people were in favour of the strike; others were opposed to it. Of course, even then a section of oil workers were opposed to the regime, but now this opposition is much stronger. Let me tell you, if the political protests continue, I am sure (by that I mean I promise!) that employees in the oil industry will defend the political struggles and will do what is necessary.

My last question is about the proposed sanctions planned by the US, Britain, France and Germany on the export of refined oil to Iran. What is your opinion about such sanctions?

It is clear that sanctions will hit ordinary people. In winter, they will harm the impoverished working class and the poor in general. Essential goods will not reach the cities and villages. All this benefits world capitalism, but it will be an obstacle to workers’ struggle and its immediate effect will be to strengthen the regime. We have been working for the revolutionary overthrow of this regime since 1981 and every foreign intervention delays this process - they create conditions that hold back workers’ protests.

That is why we can’t stay silent: we must do all we can to oppose these sanctions.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Iran: Green road to nowhere

Green road to nowhere

The sham presidential election of June 2009 has unleashed a rainbow of political forces, writes Yassamine Mather, including an increasingly strong red component. The task of the left is to support and strengthen the red component of this rainbow, the Iranian working class, as the only force capable of bringing about democracy, and the only movement conscious of the international complexities of the current situation

Every day for the last few weeks Iranian workers have been protesting, at times in their thousands - at their workplaces, outside government offices and provincial offices complaining about job losses, non-payment of wages, privatisation ... Universities have been the scene of daily protests and ordinary people have used every opportunity, even football matches, to express their opposition to the regime. At the same time a new wave of exiles, including reporters, writers, professors of literature, are leaving the country, despairing of continued repression and the ineffective ‘reformist’ leaders.
For the overwhelming majority of Iranians, however, such an option does not exist. Tens of millions of wage-earners have no choice but to continue their struggles against the regime in their daily confrontation with factory-owners and the religious state that backs them. In the words of those at Wagon Pars, who went on hunger strike last week, workers have “nothing to lose but their unpaid wages”. The 1,700 employees of Wagon Pars, manufacturer of freight wagons and passenger coaches, have been in dispute with management and the state for months over unpaid wages. In August 2009 these workers went on strike and staged a sit-in protest on factory grounds, locking the gates and preventing managers from entering.
The factory had been privatised as a subsidiary of troubled car maker Iran Khodro, after Iran’s supreme leader changed article 44 of the constitution, removing the guarantee of public ownership for key industries. Protests and threats of strike by Iran Khodro workers forced the government to retreat, showing the vulnerability of the rulers when confronted by united working class action. Iran Khodro workers have now won five of their demands, including an overtime pay rise of 20% for all workers on the production line.
Last week there were also major workers’ protests over non-payment of wages in Louleh Sazi Khouzestan (manufacturers of pipelines) and a demonstration by Tractor Sazi workers in Kurdistan, where tens of workers were sacked, while others are expected to work longer hours. Managers in most of these disputes blame the world economic downturn for the new wave of job losses. Nearly four months after the huge demonstrations of June 2009, the continuation of protests in workplaces and universities proves that opposition to the regime goes well beyond the issue of the sham presidential elections.
Sanctions and the working class
Sanctions have compounded an already dire economic situation. In the South Pars oilfields almost 6,000 contract workers are threatened with job losses, as whole fields are abandoned following news that Total, Repsol and Shell are pulling out. The current protests should indeed be seen in the light of the world economic crisis - whose effects have been felt far worse in the countries of the periphery - as well as the impact of sanctions. Iranian workers are adamant that the dire economic situation is one of the main reasons why protests continue and evolve, despite the failures of the green movement. Some of their supporters talk of the “suffocating silence” of the green movement’s leadership.1
Of course, workers’ protests in Iran are nothing new. They have been going on for years. What is different is the massive increase in their number and the introduction of political slogans, such as “Death to the dictator” or “Tanks, bullets, bassij [militia] are not effective any more”, in workers’ sit-ins, protests and demonstrations. Workers were the first section of the population to confront unscrupulous capitalists and the religious state, and their audacity paved the way for the wider opposition to develop. Now they are showing themselves the most tenacious in continuing the protests, even if the western media do not find workers’ actions newsworthy. The problems they face are enormous. Unlike the myriad well funded NGOs, some with dubious links to US regime-change funds, the Iranian working class has no source of ready income. On the contrary, their protests cost workers their meagre wages.
Reporting workers’ struggles on radio and TV is considered ideological, while giving wall-to-wall coverage to the utterances of ‘reformist’ Islamists or bourgeois liberal politicians is deemed ‘impartial’. The state can identify and punish labour activists much more easily than demonstrators. Nowhere is the state’s control more severe than in the oil industry. Worker activists discussing possible strike action are moved from their regular posts to other areas.
Yet none of the state’s increasingly repressive measures seem to deter the Iranian working class, who are turning the defensive actions of last year into more aggressive forms of protest, establishing road blocks, taking managers hostage, bringing their families to occupy closed factories and workplaces. In order to overcome the lack of news coverage of their struggles, Iranian workers are setting up their own means of communication through internet sites and email.
But the combination of proposed new sanctions and the ‘new’ economic policies of the regime will make life even harder for the majority. Just when it became clear that Iran has no intention of adhering to a proposed deal for the ‘resolution’ of its nuclear crisis2 and the US began passing legislation to impose new unilateral sanctions, the majles (Islamic parliament) discussed regulations that would sharply reduce energy and food subsidies, in compliance with long-term demands of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
In the US, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act (IRSA), approved by an overwhelming 414 to six margin in Congress, will allow local and state governments and their pension funds to divest from foreign companies or US subsidiaries with investments of more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector. And the house foreign affairs committee has scheduled a vote for October 28 on the Iran Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA) bill. This will impose sanctions on companies involved in exporting refined petroleum products to Iran or expanding Tehran’s capacity to produce its own refined products. Similar sanctions are likely to be imposed by France, the United Kingdom and Germany. Meanwhile most US politicians and commentators agree that sanctions affecting the general population could actually bolster support for the Tehran government.
The new subsidies legislation in Iran will increase the prices of goods, including gasoline, natural gas and electricity. Similar legislation was proposed by ‘reformist’ president Mohammad Khatami during his term (1997-2005), proving once more that, when it comes to major economic decisions, including compliance with IMF demands, the two main factions of the Islamic regime have identical policies. It is therefore no surprise that ‘reformist’ MPs, including supporters of Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the main challenger in the June elections, back the measure.
With subsidies and the current rationing system, a litre of gasoline costs 100 tomans ($0.10). The new bill will raise the price to as much as 500 or 600 tomans per litre - before the effects of US/European sanctions start to bite. The measure could double Iran’s already astronomic rate of inflation, fluctuating between 15% and 30%. It will make the poor poorer, while the rich will be least affected. Ironically, legislative bodies in both the US and Iran are making sure the Iranian people will suffer this winter. Iran is the world’s fifth-largest crude oil exporter, but its eight refineries cannot produce near enough fuel for the home market.
Islamic values?
If anyone had any doubt about the reactionary nature of the ‘reformist’ leaders, this week’s meeting and joint statement from Moussavi and Khatami should have shattered their illusions. They called for “a return to the values of the Islamic republic and to the country’s constitution”. What values are we talking about? Air raids on inhabited villages in Kurdistan in the early 1980s, when Moussavi was prime minister? Or the massacre of peasants who sheltered leftwingers in Kurdistan? The values that led to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1987, or the values behind serial political murders during Khatami’s presidency? The list of ‘Islamic values’ under Khatami and Moussavi is indeed endless. These gentlemen and the ‘reformists’ as a whole are obsessed with calling recent events a coup, as their pleas for a return to the ‘glory days’ of the Islamic republic make clear: Iran had previously been a democracy, you see - at least when Khatami was president or Moussavi was prime minister - but then in June 2009 there was a coup!
In reality, the Islamic regime’s attitude towards any form of opposition has not changed much over the last few months. Opposition groups and labour activists, women and student protesters have been arrested, tortured and executed throughout the last 30 years. What has changed is a reduction in the executive power of the ‘reformists’, who have been part and parcel of the regime. It is hard to see how one could call the current state of affairs a coup when the major players claiming to be the victims still hold their positions. Former ‘reformist’ president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani (1989-97) remains chair of the council of experts and chair of the national security council. Khatami’s International Institute for Dialogue among Cultures and Civilisations is not under threat. Clerical allies of the ‘reformists’ in Ghom remain free to express their opinions.
None of this, of course, makes Iran a democracy. Iran remains a religious capitalist state with all the contradictions of such a combination. However, what we are witnessing is not a coup, but divisions amongst rulers.
Left illusions
The events of June 2009 have unleashed a whole set of new movements in Iran. One can no longer speak of a single movement. In the words of activists inside Iran, we see a rainbow of political forces, including an increasingly strong red component. As I said at the CPGB’s Communist University in August, the task of the left is to support and strengthen the red component of this rainbow, the Iranian working class, as the only force capable of bringing about democracy - but also as the only movement conscious of the international complexities of the current situation.
However, the events of the last few years, as well as the BBC’s obsession with the Iranian clergy and ‘ayatollogy’,3 has moved much of the exiled left and some of their supporters inside Iran further into liberalism and nationalism. For these forces, mesmerised by the euphoria of maintaining ‘unity’, class politics has become a dogmatic irrelevance. Yet there have been very few times in Iran’s history when the role of the working class has been so pivotal in the political arena as it is today - as sections of the Iranian working class, in particular in the oil industry, keep reminding us.4 They are the force that continues to fight for their jobs and their livelihoods, and in doing so they are in the forefront of the battle for democracy.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the pro-Soviet Stalinist left in Iran started its analysis of the political situation from an international perspective. According to the dogma, there existed two camps, imperialism and socialism, and from that followed tactics and strategy. In an almost total reversal of that old position, we now see an Iranian ‘left’, often with roots in organisations that had pro-Soviet tendencies, looking only at Iran and analysing the region and the world through the prism of nationalism. No wonder this ex-left has become so liberal in its attitudes towards imperialism, war and sanctions.
By identifying the main enemy as the current regime in Iran with its Islamic characteristics (as opposed to its capitalist nature), this section of the ‘left’ becomes, consciously or unconsciously, part of the rightwing agenda. It seeks justice for Iranian workers from pro-imperialist trade unions; it wants tribunals financed by the Pentagon for abusers of human rights and executioners of political prisoners; it sees nothing wrong with accepting funds from western capitalist organisations to set up NGOs; when it comes to imperialism, it supports ‘third campist’ positions, choosing to ignore the predominant role of the hegemonic forces in world capitalism (this malaise goes well beyond the disintegrating splinters of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, spreading to other sections of the exiled left like a contagious disease).
That is why, at a time of political upheavals which should see the radicalisation of this ‘left’, we hear the most astonishing comments, ranging from the sublime - ‘Both Israel and Palestinians are equally at fault over Gaza’ (the Palestinians presumably for being occupied), ‘We should support a third campist position’ - to the ridiculous - crediting the bourgeoisie in western Europe for “bringing about universal suffrage” (N Khorasani, feminist activist). Our liberal left is keen to talk of social movements rather than class politics, forgetting that social movements, in Iran as anywhere else, are so divided by class, nationality, religion and politics that it is impossible to consider them a single coherent force - the women’s movement being a clear example.
The heralded movement of movements in Iran will go nowhere unless the working class succeeds in putting its mark on current events. In so doing it will inevitably have to deal with the increasing ‘liberalism’ of sections of the ex-left.
We are at the beginning of such a struggle and it will take a long time. Nevertheless the signs from debates amongst workers inside Iran are encouraging. Car workers and oil workers who face international capital in their daily protests seem unaffected by the myth of bourgeois liberal heavens that will permit the development of trade unions, apparently a precondition for all workers’ struggles! The Iranian working class - and here one should include the millions who have lost their jobs because of the neoliberal policies of finance capital - are in daily confrontation with world capitalism.
No wonder, despite their hatred of the Islamic regime, they remain the only class aware of the objective interests of the United States and it allies in controlling the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region. Unlike sections of the national minorities or the women’s movement, which have become pawns in imperialist games, Iranian workers have maintained their opposition to a regime which is subordinate to the US in the global pecking order, and are conscious that their movement must draw clear lines against bourgeois alternatives and imperialist plans.
They are already taking initiatives well beyond the limited horizons of our liberal left, talking of workers’ control in the thousands of abandoned factories and plants throughout the country. They are talking of the need for unity in organising employed and unemployed workers, of the need to set up neighbourhood organisations in working class districts. They are discussing the possibility of a general strike, its likely risks and potential rewards.
They certainly have no illusions regarding any of the shades of the green movement, even though they clearly understand the unprecedented opportunities presented by the current divisions amongst Iran’s theocratic rulers. Our solidarity and our support should be with the working class - and its many allies in the women’s movement, amongst students and in the national and religious minorities.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Threats over uranium enrichment aid regime

Threats over uranium enrichment aid regime
by Yassamine Mather

The dramatic statements by Obama, Brown and Sarkozy about Iran’s undisclosed nuclear enrichment plant, made in a ‘breaking news’-style press conference on the first day of the G20 gathering in Pittsburgh, were clearly intended to prepare the world for a new conflict in the Middle East. The presentation of the ‘news’ and the language used in delivering the threats were reminiscent of the warnings about Iraq’s ‘45-minute’ strike capability.

According to Obama, "Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on October 1 they are going to have to come clean, and they will have to make a choice." The alternative to sticking to ‘international rules’ on Iran’s nuclear development, would be "a path that is going to lead to confrontation".

Yet in some ways the existence of a second uranium enrichment plant is old news. By all accounts US and UK secret services had known about this plant for at least three years - Israel and France also knew about it for some time and had delivered their finding to the International Atomic Energy Agency earlier this year. The ‘dramatic’ disclosures came at a time when Russia was already on board regarding further sanctions. Given its billion-dollar trade with Iran, China - one of Iran’s major commercial partners - is unlikely to change its opposition to further sanctions.

So what was the main purpose of the Obama-Sarkozy-Brown show on September 25? Could it be it was directed mainly to audiences in the US, UK and France, to convince them that, at a time of economic uncertainty, western leaders have to deal with a ‘major external threat’ posed by Iran’s nuclear development?

But the elephant in that press conference room was the Israeli nuclear programme. While Iran might be approaching nuclear military capability by 2010-15 (no-one is claiming it has such capability now), another ‘religious’ state in the Middle East is exempt from IAEA regulations and possesses between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads (this according to US estimates), yet it maintains a policy of ‘deliberate ambiguity’ on whether it has nuclear weapons.

Former IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei regarded Israel as a state possessing nuclear weapons, but there has been no IAEA inspection, hence the ambiguity over the number of warheads it possesses. Strictly speaking, as a beneficiary of the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II, Israel is not supposed to have any. Yet every year the US congress approves billions of dollars of US military aid to Israel. For the fiscal year 2010, Obama is requesting $2.775 billion.

The Symington and Glenn amendments to foreign aid law specifically prohibit US aid to nuclear states outside the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has signed the NPT. Israel has not.

Of course, none of this justifies the Iranian rulers’ obsession with reaching a stage where they can produce nuclear-weapons. Unlike middle class nationalist Iranians, who even in their opposition to the regime, favour the government’s nuclear programme, the Iranian working class has been clear on this issue, as shown by placards on recent demonstrations: "We don’t want nuclear power - we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live - we don’t live to work."

Millions of Iranian workers have not been paid for months, while capitalists and the religious government keep telling them of Iran’s economic crisis and shortfalls in both the state and private funds, yet the Islamic regime seems to have sufficient funds to equip one more nuclear enrichment plant, paying billions - presumably to dubious sources - for black market equipment. The current escalation of the conflict also exposes the stupidity of the Iranian rulers who only admitted to the existence of this ‘secret’ plant after its existence was ‘exposed’.

Of course, Iranians have become so used to hearing total lies from the leaders of all factions of the Islamic regime that the revelation of the existence of this facility, hidden not far from the capital, did not come as a surprise. After all, this is the same government that used Photoshop to pretend a failed rocket did successfully launch, the same government that cheated in the presidential elections, then lied about the number of people killed in the subsequent protests, and the same government whose president claims to have seen a white light descending from another world while he was addressing the UN assembly in 2007.

Further sanctions will bring more poverty for Iranian workers and it will be the Iranian people who will pay the price for the foolishness of the very leaders they have been protesting against for over two months. The US is keen on sanctions against companies exporting refined oil to Iran (which imports 60% of its requirements). It now looks like France and Germany are sceptical about such sanctions. They refer to the Iraq experience and the ease with which petrol can be smuggled across land borders.

The Iranian government has already indicated that it will cut petrol subsidies. It is blaming the west and hopes such a move will unite the country against the ‘foreign enemy’. Contrary to the pessimism of sections of the Iranian left in exile who ‘despair’ of the growth of the ‘Green’ movement or who have joined the bandwagon behind ‘reformist’ presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi, workers in oil refineries in Iran are well aware of the historic role of their class in the current situation and there have been discussions regarding strikes in this industry for the last few weeks. These workers have two valid concerns: (1) that their strike should not benefit Moussavi (he is hated by these workers, some of whom remember his time in power); and (2) that their strike should not help US efforts for regime change from above.

Western countries are also considering options including an embargo on investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector, an end to loan guarantees to all companies investing in Iran, a ban on Iranian businesses trading in euros, and a ban on foreign companies insuring Iranian shipping and air transport. All of these measures will target the Iranian people, the majority of whom hate the clerical state.

UN lies

If the Iranian government lied about its nuclear installations, Ahmadinejad’s speech last week at the UN was also full of deceit. His holocaust-denial comments, repeated in every interview he gave while in the US, were a deliberate attempt to divert attention from mass protests at home and to heighten the tension with the rest of the world. This regime and this president rely on foreign crises to survive - he desperately needs enemies abroad to divert attention from problems at home, and the Obama-Brown-Sarkozy trio gave him that.

However, his speech contained other lies. The man who has printed money in an attempt to solve Iran’s economic problems told the world: "It is no longer possible to inject thousands of billions of dollars of unreal wealth into the world economy simply by printing worthless paper assets, or transfer inflation as well as social and economic problems to others through creating severe budget deficits." He also criticised "liberal capitalism" (as opposed to clerical capitalism?). After all, this is the president of a government that is busy privatising every industry in Iran, from services in the oil industry to car plants and Iran’s national telecommunications. The telecom company was privatised and sold to the ‘revolutionary guards’ in the last week of September, although Iran’s ‘monopoly regulatory commission’ is now said to be investigating this.

However, such actions by Iran’s Sepah Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) do not imply that the country is under military capitalist rule: they are controlled by the most conservative sections of Iran’s clerical elite. The Pasdaran ownership of the telecommunication services is only another success for supreme leader Ali Khamenei, his son and the clerics around him, as this ideological military force has no life and no significance without clerical rule.

The few delegates in the UN assembly hall who heard Ahmadinejad condemn the excesses of "liberal capitalism" might have thought Iran is an egalitarian religious society. Nothing could be further from reality. After 30 years in power Iran’s Islamic regime has created one of the most unequal, corrupt societies of the region, where the gap between the rich and the poor is amongst the highest in the world. As Ahmadinejad was speaking, Iran’s car workers (amongst the best paid sections of the working class) were protesting at long shifts causing ill health and workers throughout Iran were on strike or demonstrating against non-payment of wages. While factory closures due to privatisation continue, Aryaman Motors, a Tehran-based company specialising in reproducing classic cars, launched a new series of replica vehicles based on the original design of the earliest Rolls Royce models at $120,000 each - wealthy Iranians have already pre-paid for the first models that will be finished later this year.

In his speech Ahmadinejad also referred to the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, failing to mention Iran’s role in support of US aggression in both - as leaders of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran keep reminding us! The Iranian president then referred to breaches of human rights in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Of course, it is inevitable that abuse of human rights by the ‘torch holders’ of liberal democracy in the US and the UK will be used by every tinpot leader in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere to justify the tortureand execution of opponents. The Iranian president is the leader of a government that has killed at least 72 civilians and torturedhundreds in the last two months alone, yet the actions of western governments allow him to stand up in New York and give moral lectures about ‘human right abuses’. We truly live in irrational times.

Protests and divisions

The first days of the new university term in Iran saw major protests on campuses throughout the country - the largest being at Tehran University on September 27-28. Students shouted "Death to the dictator" and booed the new minister of higher education. Security forces retreated from the campus. On Tuesday September 29 students protested at Sharif University, once more causing the minister for higher education to abandon plans to speak. Meanwhile, security forces are warning football crowds not to chant political slogans at the Tehran derby between Esteghlal and Persepolis on October 2.

As former president and leading ‘reformist’ Ali Akbar Rafsanjani continues his efforts to find a compromise between the regime’s warring factions, the first signs of a rift amongst ‘reformists’ has appeared. In an open letter addressed to Rafsanjani, another ‘reformist’ presidential candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, writes: "What is your answer to the people who, under dangerous conditions, question the actions of the Assembly of Experts under your leadership? ... By what measure have you preserved the ideals of the revolution in your role as chair of the Assembly of Experts, whose first duty is fighting injustice?"

Moussavi’s latest statement on September 28 is also predictably uninspiring. Its repeated references to the "wisdom" of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, confirmed his continued allegiance to the ‘imam’s line’. But this will not gain him much support amongst young Iranians, who will not accept any solution short of the overthrow of the entire regime. Moussavi’s call on his supporters to "avoid any radical measures which could damage the achievements so far made by the opposition" expose once more his fear of radical change and his determination to save the religious state.

All this is very good news for the revolutionary forces. However, the threat of sanctions and war only strengthens Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. In the words of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, any "rush to punitive sanctions - tightened to the point where ordinary Iranians, already suffering the effects of chronic unemployment, had to endure petrol shortages or big fuel price hikes - could backfire spectacularly".

Hands Off the People of Iran has always condemned sanctions and threats of war against Iran. We oppose them not only because we want to see imperialism defeated, but because they increase patriotism and nationalism, thus helping the reactionary regime. The government will use the ‘threat of the enemy without’ to increase repression, to arrest and torture its ‘enemy within’. Sanctions disorganise the working class, as people are forced to squander their fighting energies on day-to-day struggles to keep their jobs and feed their families - Iranian oil workers are right to be concerned about going on strike at a time when sanctions will also target ‘imported refined oil’.

The proposed US-European sanctions dramatically degrade the ability of the working people to struggle collectively on their own account, to organise and to fight. In other words, for the sake of Iranian working class we must continue our opposition to war, sanctions and regime change from above, while increasing our solidarity with the revolutionary movement inside Iran.