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.