Friday, November 12, 2010

Sanctions take their toll

Sanctions take their toll

Yassamine Mather calls for international solidarity with Iranian workers

Over the last two weeks the number of strikes in Iranian factories and workplaces has risen considerably. Workers have taken action in major plants such as South Pars Gasfields, Alborz Lastic Sazi, Ghaem Shahr textiles, Safa Louleh (pipe manufacturers), as have city council workers in Abadan. Demands have also been raised by nurses and other hospital workers, teachers and civil servants.

Some of the most important oil and gas plants have been hit, as well as key manufacturing industries. In other words, both the traditional and modern sectors. In addition to these strikes, we have also seen the first protests by retired workers opposed to a reduction in price concessions for pensioners, reduced from 15% to 9%. Retired employees demonstrated outside the majles (Islamic parliament). In some ways this was as important as the strikes by workers in employment.

How should we analyse the fact that so many workers’ protests have occurred simultaneously? Is it just a coincidence? Of course, it is impossible to predict how things will evolve, but, given the level of repression against workers and the left, these events mark a significant development in the current stage of economic and political struggles inside Iran. So what are the factors behind this new wave of labour unrest?

There is no doubt that sanctions are creating widespread economic devastation, to a degree that is unprecedented over the last 30 years. The drop in the price of oil on the world market, the reduction of production levels for both oil and gas (itself a result of the failure to renew productive capacity), the fall in non-oil exports, bankruptcies and closures in production and manufacturing, the rise in the rate of inflation in housing and essential goods, the plunder of the country’s economic resources through the expropriation of privatised industries and services by factions of the regime, the colossal rise in the price of medical services and drugs - all this points to an escalation of the economic and social crisis.

By November 9, long queues were forming at petrol stations, as motorists expecting a 400% price rise were trying to fill up their tanks. But low-paid workers are the main victims of the current situation. According to an employee of Ghaem Shahr Textile Industries, many of his colleagues have been forced to remove their children from education (both high school and university) so that they can feed their families on the meagre income from their temporary jobs.

Many small and medium-sized firms have already been bankrupted. However, what we are witnessing now is the effects of the crisis on some of the country’s major industrial units, exposing the extent of the problems facing the whole economy. In the past the Islamic regime could rely on oil income and unbridled imports to deal with the demand for basic consumption goods. But now the ruling elite is faced with two important problems: a fall in the price of oil and a regime of suffocating sanctions.

The new round of sanctions has not only made it difficult to import many items, leading to spiralling price rises for most goods: it has also become a serious political weapon threatening the survival of the regime. The regime cannot ignore the problems of production in major industries and this has given the workers in such plants an opportunity to raise demands regarding wages and working conditions.

All this has occurred at a time when the government has been pushing through the abolition of price subsidies - or promoting ‘targeted subsidies’, as it prefers to say. Despite threats to punish shopkeepers who increase prices charged for essential goods, such as bread, meat, sugar, cooking oil and dairy produce, prices for these items are rising daily. Compared to last year, the cost of bread is likely to have increased five or six times by the end of this Iranian month, while cooking oil will have more than doubled and cuts of lamb tripled.

This week, after months of denial, Iran’s Central Bank admitted the true extent of the rise in the rate of inflation. Statistics issued by the bank and other government organisations, including for the cost of living, are given in dollars, even though Iranian workers are paid in tomans (1,000 tomans = one dollar). Last week the price of imported meat in Tehran supermarkets was $30 a kilo - more than in most stores in London or New York. The average wage is $400 a month.

We should not forget that the removal of subsidies on essential food items was part of a $100 billion cuts programme; an integral component of the regime’s adherence to neoliberal economic policies under the terms of its five-year plan. However, uncertainty over the changes was one of the factors behind a $6 billion slide in the value of Tehran’s stock exchange two weeks ago, with trade volume plummeting 63% and share prices dropping by 43% in just one week.

All this will inevitably lead to increased unemployment. Official figures put Iran’s jobless rate at 14.6%. However, this is far below the true figure. The government of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has revised the definition of what constitutes unemployment a number of times. Currently someone doing just one hour of paid work per week is not considered unemployed. But no-one doubts that for many the prospect of finding a job is non-existent.

The government’s fear of food riots following the abolition of subsidies is so real that even before the deadline for full implementation it stationed special military units in poor districts to ‘maintain security’ - in other words, prepare for potential confrontation with the masses. The police presence in Tehran and other cities was also increased and many were deployed on major streets and outside supermarkets. Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Guards’ Tehran commander announced that a special task force has been formed to deal with any economic protests. On November 8, several underground rap musicians were arrested in Tehran, and last week hundreds of young men and women were detained in what the police termed a “security cleansing”. The press has been warned to steer clear of any controversial coverage of the subsidy cuts.

In working class districts, everyone is clearly worried about Ahmadinejad’s plans for ‘reforming’ the economy. Of course, a combination of workers’ protests and riots in shanty towns would be a nightmare for the Islamic regime, but the key element is the strength and organisation of the working class. Given the weakness of the left, we cannot expect the working class to be in a position to take full advantage of the current situation. However, there is no doubt that in these exceptional times the success of the shanty towns struggles, the defeat of the abolition of subsidies and the struggles of pensioners all depend on the proletariat.

As in 1979, Iranian workers are in a position to make their mark in the fight against poverty and exploitation and for democracy. In pursuing these goals they need international solidarity and it is part of the role of Hands Off the People of Iran to mobilise such support.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sanctions siege turns into cyberwarfare

The Stuxnet virus is a new form of warfare. Instead of Iran being attacked by planes and missiles it has been USBs. Yassamine Mather reports

While Israel, the US and Britain keep up their rhetoric of ultimatums and threats against Iran, and escalate the siege warfare of economic sanctions, Hands Off the People of Iran has been warning of the very real and ominous danger of a so-called pre-emptive attack. Now things have taken an unexpected and dangerous turn. Throughout the last couple of months Iran’s nuclear plants as well as a number of major industrial complexes have been targeted by a sophisticated piece of malware: Stuxnet.

According to computer experts the virus’s complexity suggests it was written by a “nation state” and it is the first known worm designed to target not software, but real-world infrastructure such as power stations, water plants and industrial units. Last week, after many denials, Iran confirmed that 30,000 computers in the country’s power stations, including the nuclear reactor in Bushehr, had been attacked by the virus, blaming Israeli or American spies for infiltrating the plant.

A total of 40,000 computers worldwide are known to be affected by the virus. According to Liam Ó Murchú, manager of operations with Symantec’s security response team, “It’s amazing, really, the resources that went into this worm”. It is suggested that the virus was introduced to Iran not through the internet but on a memory stick, possibly by one of the Russian firms helping to build the Bushehr nuclear plant. The same firm has projects in other Asian countries, including India and Indonesia, which were also attacked. But Iran is thought to have suffered 60% of the attacks.

Stuxnet has already proven itself perhaps the most sophisticated piece of known malware to date, infecting computers through USB sticks, Windows file shares and other vectors. The virus exploits four known ‘zero-day’ vulnerabilities of the Microsoft operating system that until recently were unknown and unpatched. It spreads automatically without the computers user’s knowledge.

Machinery used in automated plants and high infrastructure industries is usually controlled by computers running the more reliable Linux operating system. Engineers and some computing experts have expressed surprise that Siemens used the bug-ridden Microsoft operating system for plant control. A photograph taken inside the Russian-built Bushehr plant shows a computer screen - configured to run a Siemens operating system - infected by Stuxnet and configured wrongly, making it vulnerable to bugs.

The virus was aimed at a popular process controller - the Siemens Simatic Programmable Logic Controller - and exploited a zero-day vulnerability in WINCC SQL database.

Industrial control systems (ICS) operate using a specialised software similar to an assembly code on programmable logic controllers (PLCs). The PLCs are often programmed from computers not connected to the internet or even internal local area networks. In addition, the industrial control systems themselves should not be connected to the internet. Reports from Iran suggest some of the recommendations about PLC security were not followed. The virus is autonomous - it requires no operator to direct its actions. Once it finds its target, it writes new code into the controller to change a process.

First, the attacker needs to obtain design documents. These could have been stolen by an insider, but it is likely that an earlier version of Stuxnet or another malicious program gave that information to the hackers. Once attackers had knowledge of the computing environment in the facility, they could develop the more dangerous version of Stuxnet. Each feature of Stuxnet was implemented for a specific reason and for the final goal of sabotaging the ICS.

Mahmoud Jafari, the director of Iran’s Bushehr reactor, was among those affected by the malware.

According to Ó Murchú, “The fact that we see so many more infections in Iran than anywhere else in the world makes us think this threat was targeted at Iran and that there was something in Iran that was of very, very high value to whomever wrote it”.

An Israeli military unit responsible for cyberwarfare is accused of creating Stuxnet to cripple Iran’s state computer systems and stop work at Bushehr nuclear power station. No one knows if Natanz, where uranium is being processed and where the US, UK and Israel claim nuclear weapons are being developed, has been penetrated by Stuxnet. However the number of working centrifuges, the main enrichment devices, produced in Natanz, fell suddenly by 15 per cent - at the very time the virus was first thought to have hit Iran.

Apparently there is also a biblical reference embedded in the code of the computer worm that points to Israel as the origin of the cyber attack. The code contains the word “myrtus”, which is the Latin biological term for the myrtle tree. The Hebrew word for myrtle, Hadassah, was the birth name of Esther, the Jewish queen of Persia.

The Book of Esther tells how the queen pre-empted an attack on the country’s Jewish population and then persuaded her husband to launch a pre-emptive attack before being attacked themselves.

Ralf Langner, a German researcher, claims that Unit 8200, the signals intelligence arm of the Israeli defence forces, perpetrated the computer virus attack by infiltrating the software into the Bushehr nuclear power station. Langner said: “It would be an absolute no-brainer to leave an infected USB stick near one of these guys and there would be more than a 50 per cent chance of him picking it up and infecting his computer.” Of course no one can prove whether Israel is behind this, though huge resources have been poured into Unit 8200, its secret cyberwarfare operation. The US department of defence and national security agency, and the UK’s GCHQ have also been establishing elaborate cyberoffensive capabilities, and it is possible that they cooperated with Israel or acted alone.

This week the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that 15 companies using Siemens equipment have been affected by the virus and have subsequently informed Siemens of the incidents. The clients were power stations, chemical plants and other industrial facilities.

A major supplier of industrial automated sorting systems based in Holland has reported two attacks by the Stuxnet worm, while separately, the Dutch nuclear power plant Borssele is on high alert.

Even though the worm has not yet been found in control systems in the United States, it could be only a matter of time before similar threats show up there. Some computer experts warn that the sophisticated worm designed to infiltrate industrial control systems could be used as a blueprint to sabotage systems critical to US power plants, electrical grids and other infrastructure.

The current version used in Iran stops computer operations. However, as Ó Murchú demonstrated in a computer exhibition in Canada, the real danger is if the worm originated or accelerated a computer operation rather than stopping it. Ó Murchú set up a basic air pump, controlled by a Siemens system similar to the one used in Iran. The pump delivered a timed burst of air into a balloon, which inflated moderately. Ó Murchú then infected the system with Stuxnet, pressed a button, and the pump continued to work, but did not stop. The balloon went on inflating till it burst. No one in the lecture room was left in any doubt: if the balloon was, in fact, an Iranian nuclear power station, the consequences would be unimaginable.

According to Michael Assante, former chief security officer at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, an industry body that sets standards to ensure the electricity supply, “A copycat may decide to emulate it, maybe to cause a pressure valve to open or close at the wrong time. You could cause damage, and the damage could be catastrophic.” Joe Weiss, an industrial control system security specialist at Applied Control Solutions in Cupertino, California said, “the really scary part” about Stuxnet is its ability to determine what “physical process it wants to blow up”. It is “essentially a cyber weapon.”

The current fiasco in Iran’s nuclear industry should come as no surprise, if we remember that the Natanz nuclear plant is built irresponsibly close to an earthquake fault line. As far as the country’s nuclear industry is concerned, the cavalier attitude of the Islamic government and the nuclear agency towards basic safety and security issues shows the correctness of Hands Off the People of Iran’s opposition to nuclear proliferation.

We are only witnessing the first stages of this cyberwar. New versions are developing and spreading from the original worm. If it is true that the Israeli state is behind this worm, irrespective of the damage it does in Iran, Israel and its supporters might live to regret the monster they have created.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Divided theocratic regime paralysed by sanctions

Divided theocratic regime paralysed by sanctions

As the US steps up it efforts to provoke regime change from above, Yassamine Mather looks at the reasons for the failure of the working class to win leadership of the opposition movement

New sanctions imposed by the United States government last week were the most significant hostile moves against Iran’s Islamic Republic since 1979. They marked a period of unprecedented coordination led by the US to obtain the support of the United Nations and European Union.

After months of denying their significance, the government of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was forced to react by setting up an emergency counter-sanctions unit, whilst Iranian aviation officials accused the UK, Germany and the United Arab Emirates of refusing to supply fuel for civilian Iranian airplanes. As it turned out, this was not true. However, the EU banned most of Iran Air’s jets from flying over its territory, because of safety concerns directly related to previous sanctions. It is said that most of the national airline’s fleet, including Boeing 727s and 747s and its Airbus A320s, are unsafe because the company has not been able to replace faulty components.

The US is adamant that ‘severe’ sanctions are necessary to stop Iran’s attempts at becoming a military nuclear power. Scare stories are finding their way into the pages of the mass media. According to US defence secretary Robert Gates, Iran is developing the capacity to fire scores, or perhaps hundreds, of missiles at Europe. Ten days after making that claim, Gates alleged that Iran had enough enriched uranium to be able to build two atom bombs within two years.

However, it is difficult to believe the Obama administration’s claims that the new sanctions have anything to do with Iran’s nuclear capabilities, which is why we should consider other explanations.

Why is there such an urgency to increase the pressure on Iran? One likely possibility is that the Obama administration has observed the divisions within the current government (between neoconservatives, led by Ahmadinejad, and traditional conservatives, such as the Larijani brothers, who control Iran’s executive, parliamentary and judicial system) and sees an opportunity for regime change from above.

After weeks of infighting between Ahmadinejad and the conservatives, involving angry accusations and counter-accusations in parliament over Azad University, this week the reformist website, Rah-e-Sabz, posted an article claiming that “the supreme leader and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani had agreed a resolution of the conflict” over who controls Azad.

The university, one of the world’s largest, is part of a private chain with branches throughout the country and is considered a stronghold of Islamic ‘reformists’. Since 2004 Ahmadinejad has been trying to reorganise its board of governors in order to take back control. When the Islamic parliament opposed his moves to replace the board, the Guardian Council, which has to approve every bill, took the side of the Ahmadinejad camp, creating yet another stalemate between the two conservative groups within the ruling elite.

The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, had no choice but to intervene. He did so by ordering the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution to stop Ahmadinejad’s attempts to overrule parliament (in other words, he supported Rafsanjani, who, together with members of his family, are trustees and on the board of the university), In return Rafsanjani publicly praised Khamenei.

Some see this as a clever move. For the first time since last year’s disputed presidential elections, Khamenei has been forced to take a public stance against Ahmadinejad, resulting in a retreat by the president and his allies in the revolutionary guards. Azad University remains under the control of Rafsanjani and his family. No doubt if the rift between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad continues, the balance of power could shift in favour of the former president.

Meanwhile, Tehran’s bazaar was on strike for most of last week, in protest at a decision by Iran’s government to raise bazaar taxes by up to 70%. The government declared July 11 and 12 public holidays in 19 Iranian provinces, citing hot weather and dust, but there were rumours that the real reason was to conceal the possibility of strikes on those days.

All this is a reflection of Iran’s political paralysis and the state’s inability to deal with a combination of economic crisis and growing opposition amongst the majority of the population.

Crippling effects

Successive Iranian governments have denied the effectiveness of 30 years of crippling sanctions, but most economists inside the country estimate that sanctions have added 35% to the price of every commodity. Iran had been forced to buy spare parts for cars, planes, manufacturing equipment, agricultural machinery, etc on the black market, and now it will be forced to buy refined oil in the same way, causing a further jump in the rate of inflation. The smuggling of refined oil from Iraq started earlier this month, but the quantity received is unlikely to be sufficient to meet demand even during the summer months.

The new financial restrictions that came with the latest sanctions have crippled Iran’s banking and insurance sector. Iran already attracted little foreign investment, but now even China is pulling out of industrial ventures, such as the South Farse oil project. The proposed policing of ships and containers travelling to Iran means shipping insurance rates in the Persian Gulf are now the equivalent of those in war zones.

Despite the absence of the large demonstrations that followed the rigged elections of a year ago, most Iranians agree that the religious state is today weaker than it was in June 2009 (at the height of mass protests) and that could explain renewed interest in the US for regime change from above. At a time when anger against Iran’s rulers and frustration with leaders of the green movement amongst youth and sections of working class is tangible, it is difficult to predict what will happen next. From bloggers to journalists, from students to the unemployed, opponents of the regime are blaming ‘reformist’ leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi for the current stalemate - people’s patience is running out. Could it be that the Obama administration is planning to replace the Islamic Republic with a regime composed of selected exiles, à la Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq or Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan? After all, there is no shortage of former Islamists currently residing in the US who have converted to ‘liberal democracy’, including Iranian disciples of Karl Popper. Such people are paraded daily in the Farsi media and portrayed as the voice of reason.

In contrast to the hesitation and conciliationism of green leaders, others within the opposition have been stepping up their protests against the Islamic regime and two potentially powerful sections - the women’s movement and the workers’ movement - are conducting their own struggles. Yet here too Moussavi’s patronising attitude to both groups (he called on workers to join the green movement to safeguard their interests, while his wife claimed to support women’s rights) have backfired badly. In the words of one feminist activist, the green movement should realise it is one section of the opposition, but not the only voice of the protest movement.

Workers’ movement

Superficial analysts abroad labelled last year’s anti-dictatorship protesters in Iran as middle class. However, those present at these demonstrations were adamant that workers, students and the unemployed played a huge role. In May, the Centre to Defend Families of the Slain and Detained in Iran published the names of 10 workers who were killed in post-election street protests, and there is considerable evidence that workers, the unemployed and shanty town-dwellers were among the forces that radicalised the movement’s slogans (crossing the red lines imposed by green leaders, such as the call for an end to the entire regime, and for the complete separation of state and religion). In addition we are witnessing an increasing number of workers’ demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes against the non-payment of wages, deteriorating conditions and low pay. The workers’ protest movement has been dubbed a tsunami, and in recent months it has adopted clear political slogans against the dictatorship.

Last week was typical. Five hundred workers staged protests outside Abadan refinery against unpaid wages, blocking the road outside the refinery. Two of their comrades filming the action were arrested, but these workers are adamant they will continue the strikes and demonstrations next week. Three hundred Pars metal workers staged a separate protest against non-payment of wages and cuts in many of the workers’ benefits, such as the bus to and from work and the subsidised canteen, which managers of the privatised company intend to close. Similar protests have taken place in dozens of large and small firms throughout Iran. Most have moved on from purely economic demands to include political slogans against the regime.

However, we still see little coordination between these protests and workers have yet to make their mark as a class aware of its power and historic role. Despite much talk of mushrooming industrial action and even a general strike, so far we have not seen the Iranian working class taking its rightful place at the head of a national movement.

So how can we explain the current situation? A number of points have been raised by the left in Iran:

1. The working class and leftwing activists have faced more severe forms of repression than any other section of the opposition, even prior to June 2009. However, it is difficult to accept that fear of arrest or detention has played any part in the reluctance of workers to make their mark as a political force. Clearly repression has not deterred workers from participating in strikes, taking managers hostage or blocking highways. In fact incarcerated activists include the majority of the leaders of Vahed Bus Company, serving Tehran and its suburbs, the entire leadership of Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers and activists from the Committee to set up Independent Workers’ Organisations.

2. Workers have been misled by the leaders of the green movement. Yet throughout the presidential election debates they did not hear any substantial difference between the economic plans proposed by Moussavi and Karroubi, who, for example, defended privatisation, and those of Ahmadinejad and other conservatives. Workers are opposed to plans for the abolition of state subsidies. However, they remember that this was a plan originally proposed by the ‘reformist’, Mohammad Khatami, during his presidency, as part of the much hated policy of ‘economic readjustment’.

Workers are also well aware that the leaders of the green movement aspire to an Iranian/Islamic version of capitalism, where the bourgeoisie’s prosperity will eventually ‘benefit all’ - an illusion very few workers subscribe to. It should also be noted that the Iranian working class as a modern, urban force is primarily secular, with no allegiance to the Islamic state, and constitutes a growing wing of the protest movement that wants to go beyond adherence to legality and the reform of the current constitution. Kept at arm’s length by leaders of the green movement and yet incapable of asserting its own political line, the working class is facing a dilemma in the current crisis.

3. The opportunist left has diverted the class struggle. However, the Iranian working class is wary of claims made by leaders of the green movement, as well as sections of the opportunist left like Tudeh and the Fedayeen Majority, that the first decade of the Islamic Republic under ayatollah Khomeini constituted the golden years of the revolution. Older worker activists realise that it was the clergy and the Islamic regime that halted the revolution of 1979 and threw it into reverse. The Khomeini years coincided with the worst of the religious repression, and it was not only the radical left who were the victims (thousands were executed), but workers in general. The state was constantly calling on them to make sacrifices, to send their sons to the battle front and produce more for the war economy, while ruthlessly suppressing workers’ independent actions as the work of traitors and spies. So, contrary to the opinion of Tudeh and the Fedayeen Majority, the first decade of Khomeini’s rule - under Moussavi’s premiership, of course - were the dark years for Iranian workers and no amount of rewriting history will change this.

4. The current economic situation is so bad that the working class is unable to fight effectively for anything more than survival. Striking for unpaid wages is symptomatic of this, on top of which there is the threat of losing your job and joining the ranks of the unemployed. In other words, the defensive nature of workers’ struggles hinders their capability to mount a nationwide struggle. Of course, if this argument is correct, the situation will get worse once further sanctions bite. There will be more job losses, more despair amongst the working class.

5. Despite many efforts to create nationwide workers organisations - not only the Committee to set up Independent Workers’ Organisations, but the Network of Iranian Labour Unions (founded in response to the bus drivers’ actions and the imprisonment of their leader, Mansour Osanlou), workers have failed to coordinate protests even on a regional level.

6. The confusion of the left has had a negative impact. Workers have not forgotten how the Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh apologised for and supported the ‘anti-imperialist’ religious state. The majority of the working class was aligned with the left, and so went along with the dismantling of the workers’ shoras (councils) that played such a significant role in the overthrow of the shah’s regime. Later, during Khatami’s presidency (1997-2005), the Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh advocated collaboration with the state-run Islamic factory councils, although the majority of workers considered these anti-trade union organisations, whose main task was to spy on labour activists and support managers in both private and state-owned enterprises. The Shia state claimed to international bodies such as the International Labour Organisation that the councils were genuine trade unions, even though they were set up to destroy labour solidarity within and beyond the workplace. Despite all this the opportunist left not only refused to expose their true function: it called on Iranian workers to join them as a step towards the establishment of mass labour organisations!

Revolutionary left

Over the last few years the left has publicised workers’ demands and organised support for them. Yet there have been big problems. We have seen two distinct approaches regarding the form working class organisation should take. Some advocate the need to unite around the most basic of demands in trade union-type bodies independent of political organisation. Others argue that a struggle within such a united front between reformist and revolutionary currents over strategy and tactics will be inevitable and the revolutionaries will win over the majority of the working because of the superiority of their arguments.

Then there are those who emphasise the need for a different form of organisation altogether: underground cells of class-conscious workers capable of mobilising the most radical sections of the class. Of course, it is possible to combine both options, but proponents of both strategies imply that the two paths are mutually exclusive. Those calling for a workers’ united front label advocates of cells ‘sectarian ultra-leftists’, while the latter allege that those who want to work for the creation of mass, union-type bodies are succumbing to reformism and syndicalism.

While recent attempts amongst sections of the left to discuss these issues should be welcomed, it has to be said that the working class and the left have a long way to go before the ‘tsunami’ of workers’ protests becomes a class-conscious nationwide movement capable of overthrowing the religious state and the capitalist order it upholds.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

‘Reformists’ exposed on first anniversary

‘Reformists’ exposed on first anniversary

As imperialist sanctions are stepped up, leaders of Iran’s ‘opposition’ are in headlong retreat. Yassamine Mather reports on the anniversary of the 2009 rigged elections

Demonstrations were held across Iran on the June 12 anniversary of last year’s rigged presidential elections - despite a heavy security presence and the cowardly back-stabbing of the so-called ‘reformist opposition’.
Meanwhile, the much heralded United Nations resolution on further sanctions against Iran - expanding the arms embargo and barring the country from sensitive activities such as uranium mining - was voted through on June 9. The UN measures present a diluted version of what the US administration had proposed, but they still allow high-seas inspections of vessels believed to be ferrying banned items to Iran, while 40 categories have been added to the list of people and groups subject to travel restrictions and financial sanctions. The European Union has promised to impose its own extra measures, targeting the energy, trade and transport sectors.

Some in Iran, including sections of the left, have argued that this was an inevitable consequence of Ahmadinejad and the regime’s “loss at a game of poker played with the US”. [1] I would disagree with this interpretation of the logic underlying sanctions. The principal reason behind the US administration’
s relentless efforts to increase pressure on Iran has little to do with concern about nuclear capabilities or exaggerated claims by president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government regarding this issue. It is more a consequence of an obsession by successive US administrations to impose regime change on Iran - and indeed at a time of economic crisis the necessity of identifying ‘rogue states’ as the enemy is as strong as ever.
UN-imposed sanctions are only part of the story. The US Congress is seeking to apply additional measures against the Islamic Republic’s energy firms, including a ban on the sale of refined oil to Iran and further restrictions on Iranian banks - Russia and China refused to allow their inclusion in the resolution passed by the UN. While Iran is the fourth largest oil exporter in the world, it currently does not have the capacity to refine enough oil to meet its own needs, and thus imports 40% of its gasoline and 11% of its diesel.

Clearly a ban on refined petroleum imports would have disastrous consequences for ordinary Iranians. Existing sanctions have reduced the output of Iran’s oil industry’s by 300,000 barrels per day, according to the Financial Times, depriving the country of billions of dollars in revenue.[2] The slow development of new oilfields and the poor condition of many existing wells in the absence of the equipment necessary for repair have caused this fall. In addition to sanctions, Iran’s oil workers report the sacking of expert technicians and engineers who oppose the government of Ahmadinejad and their replacement by his cronies with no experience and no knowledge of the industry.

The question facing the Iranian people and the Iranian working class is whether they stop protesting to avoid confrontation (as ‘reformist’ leaders Mehdi Moussavi and Mir-Hossein Karroubi advise) and allow regime change from above; or continue their fight for the revolutionary overthrow of the Islamic Republic from below. On June 10, two days before the anniversary of the fraudulent presidential elections, Karroubi and Moussavi issued a joint statement full of religious rhetoric, which announced that the protest demonstration planned for June 12 would not go ahead “for the safety of the people”.[3]

Whose violence?

This bizarre announcement was part of a joint internet interview. Anyone who knows anything about the Islamic regime (and our two esteemed ‘green’ leaders, being members of the ruling elite, know this as well as anyone) will tell you that if you give a millimetre to the reactionary rulers of the clerical state, they will take a kilometre. When news of the statement cancelling the demonstration was circulated, many Iranians, especially youth and workers, reacted with disbelief. Others were angry that the ‘reformist’ leaders had sought permission from the dictatorship in the first place. Those who had hoped for a plan B were disappointed. Karroubi and Moussavi proposed no other action. In their press conference they told journalists that this internet event was more effective than protests that might spark violence.

The joint interview worked well for reasserting a few basic facts about the leaders of the green movement.

  • It showed that, as far as charisma is concerned, they have less than Gordon Brown on a bad day. The statement was disjointed, featuring appallingly poor use of the Persian language, with long, meaningless sentences. The two came over as eager to please everyone but won no-one. It made a mockery of the claim that they represent the ‘opposition in Iran’.
  • Even after 12 months of unprecedented repression the leaders of the green movement remain determined to save the Islamic Republic. One could argue that the two men are well aware they have no political future without the Islamic state and in many ways they had already become irrelevant to the daily struggles of ordinary Iranians. Why should anyone take seriously the opinions of two of the staunchest supporters of clerical rule in Iran over the last 30 years when the aim is to overthrow it?
  • The worst part of the interview was the claim by both of them that they took this conciliatory position because of a commitment to non-violence - as if the main cause of violence were the opposition, not the regime itself (even when Moussavi’s ‘reformist’ wing has fronted it). This claim is parroted by the opportunist left, including the Fedayeen Majority and the ‘official communist’ Tudeh party, not to mention ‘radicals’ such as Ziba Mirhosseini, who claimed in a BBC Persian service interview that this represented “the influence of the feminist discourse on the green movement”.

It is ironic that the man accused of complicity in the execution of at least 8,000 leftwing political prisoners in the late 1980s should reject the idea of a peaceful demonstration as incitement to violence. While the ‘reformists’ and their allies in the Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh try to take their collective amnesia still further, let us remind them of examples of violence since the overthrow of the shah:

  1. In the first few months after the February 1979 revolution it was the religious state which summarily executed associates of the previous regime, for the single purpose of imposing terror on the revolutionary movement. Who was in power? Moussavi, Karroubi, together with future president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. Who were their cheerleaders? The central committee of what was to become the Fedayeen Majority and their fellow pro-Soviet Stalinists in the Tudeh Party.
  2. The history of the Islamic Republic has been one of constant repression of the Kurds and other minorities. Who was part of the state that sent tanks into Kurdish cities and helicopter gunships into the Kurdish countryside? Who was responsible for the mass killing of civilians in Arab-speaking regions? Rafsanjani, Moussavi and Karroubi. Who were their cheerleaders? The central committee of the Fedayeen Majority and the Tudeh Party.
  3. Throughout the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war leftwing political prisoners were executed as spies, and activists were shot down as they attended peaceful meetings. The groups targeted were in the overwhelming majority of cases those that had renounced armed struggle for ideological and political reasons. However, calling on workers to fight both the foreign aggressor and the brutal dictatorship was considered ‘treachery’ and punishable by death. Again who were the cheerleaders of this violent episode in our country’s history? The Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh.
  4. What about the violence that occurred at the end of the Iran-Iraq war? In the summer of 1988, Iran’s prisons were still full of students sentenced for protesting against ayatollah Khomeini in the early part of the decade, many of them members of various leftwing groups. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a secret instruction authorising their mass execution. They faced a three-minute ‘hearing’ - as long as it took for each one to be identified - and they were hanged six at a time in the prison auditorium. Later their bodies were doused in disinfectant and transported in meat trucks to mass graves.
  5. Ayatollah Khomeini is dead. But three leading figures of his regime are still very much alive. The then president, Ali Khamenei, now Iran’s supreme leader, endorsed last year’s rigged election. Ali Rafsanjani, still a powerful political player, was then the commander of the Revolutionary Guard, who were ordered to carry out the killings. Then there is the man who in 1988 was Iran’s prime minister - none other than Mir-Hussein Moussavi.[4] By this time those members of Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh who had not managed to escape were themselves amongst the victims and no-one was left to defend them.

However, nowadays it is not in the interests of those groups to remember who was responsible for past violence. Instead they express admiration for the likes of Moussavi and Karroubi - ‘reformists’ who are more scared of opposition protesters than they are of the regime they are supposed to be opposing. Far from the opposition movement bearing responsibility for the violence of the last turbulent 12 months, it is the movement’s supporters and demonstrators who have been shot down, tortured to death in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic and executed.

One cannot respond to such a state by renouncing street protests, workers’ demonstrations, student rallies and organising internet events for the press instead. In the 1980s the support of Tudeh and the Fedayeen Majority for Islamic violence was justified by their adherence to the ‘peaceful road to socialism’. Today they are following another ‘peaceful road’ with equally disastrous consequences for the Iranian people.

Tied to regime

In the interview Moussavi remained faithful to the current constitution, which was “designed to stand against dictatorship, tyranny and totalitarianism”.[5] If the constitution is so anti-authoritarian, how come some of the worst abuses, including the execution of thousands of leftwingers, took place in what Moussavi still considers the good old days - when he was prime minister, his beloved imam, Khomeini, was the supreme leader and presumably the constitution was being followed?

Moussavi also praised the positions taken by clerics: “In the past year, we saw how they supported the people with their statements and actions. The fate of the clerical scholars is closely linked with the fate of the people ...”. It is true that, had it not been for the intervention of senior clerics, Karroubi and Moussavi might be in prison by now. However, these ayatollahs are part and parcel of the current order and the allegiance of Moussavi and Karroubi to such figures only serves to alienate youth, women and workers, who see nothing progressive or democratic in the statements of such clerics.
Moussavi and Karroubi have been strongly criticised by some supporters of the green movement. One blogger writes: “We will be side by side with the mothers of martyrs. Mr Moussavi and Mr Karroubi, you can join us too. If we do not show up on June 12 the pressure on the political prisoners will increase. The demonstration on Saturday is not an option, but an obligation.” Another wrote that the regime had lost its legitimacy. People have two options: either “live humiliated” under it or topple it.

In the event there were protests on a number of university campuses and in the central districts of many of Iran’s major cities. Protesters at Tehran University were as forceful as ever, while students at Sharif University taunted the bassij militia and Revolutionary Guards with shouts of: “Liar, liar, where is your 63%?” (referring to the majority claimed by Ahmadinejad in last year’s poll). There were clashes in Tehran and other cities, and the authorities announced they have arrested 91 protesters in Tehran alone.

Iranian workers too are continuing to protest. Victims of both the economic and political crises, they have more to lose than other sections of the population from the new sanctions. There is a long list of actions organised by workers - including in Andimeshk, where 400 council workers have not been paid since December, and at Battery Noor, where workers have not received their salaries since mid-March. A number of trade unionists have been arrested, including Vahed bus company militants Said Torabian, Alireza Akhavan and Behnam Alizadeh, who have been active in a committee launched to set up independent workers’ organisations. Most struggles are over unpaid wages or the threat to jobs, but what is very noticeable is that, as soon as the military or security forces arrive, slogans such as “Death to the dictator”, and “Down with the Islamic regime” are heard.

However, these struggles remain defensive and our class remains weak as a political force. Whether we like it or not, some sections retain illusions in the ‘reformists’, while others are still loyal to the opportunist left. After decades of being bombarded by capitalist and neoliberal propaganda - both from the religious state and the western media - the working class lacks the confidence to lead political protests.

Over the last 12 months the divisions within the religious state - both between the ‘reformists’ and Ahmadinejad’s government and between supporters of the president and the hard-line ‘principlists’ - have allowed the working class a limited space, where its economic struggles could benefit from political leadership. Such a situation cannot last forever and we are already seeing signs that the government is preparing to clamp down even more ruthlessly on workers’ protests.
It is precisely for these reasons that the left has to deal with the continued threat of war and sanctions as well as exploiting the divisions within the Islamic regime. Exposing the ‘reformists’ who act as an obstacle to anti-government protest action at such a crucial time in Iran’s history is essential. However, we must also remember than the main responsibility for the violence and terror directed against the Iranian people is borne by the government of president Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Khamenei.

Imperialist sanctions and military threats only play into their hands, allowing them to buy off the ‘reformists’ and pacify the opposition movement.

  1. See, for example,
  2. ‘Sanctions hit Iranianoil production’ Financial Times May 23.
  3. See ‘Iran’s opposition leaders Moussavi and Karroubi call off June 12 protest rallies’:
  4. See ‘The UN must try Iran’s 1988 murderers’:
  5. Transcript of cyber press conference:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Jafar Panahi released

Jafar Panahi released

Solidarity works, says Jim Moody

On Tuesday last (May 25), the Iranian regime bowed to growing worldwide pressure over its imprisonment of film director Jafar Panahi and released him on 200 million rials (£14,000) bail. However, he still faces serious charges brought by the regime following gigantic, militant protests over last year’s rigged presidential elections. But at least Iran’s vicious clerics were forced to let Panahi out of the vile Evin prison where he has languished alongside other political prisoners since his arrest in March. Panahi’s release is an encouragement to all those campaigning for democratic rights in Iran in solidarity with its people.

Juliette Binoche took Jafar Panahi’s case to the world stage last weekend by holding his name in front of her as she received the best actress award.[1] Previously both the Cannes film festival and the French government had condemned Panahi’s imprisonment by Iran’s regime, which had prevented him from taking up his place on the festival jury. Tim Burton, head of the Cannes jury, left Panahi’s chair empty throughout the festival in protest.

In Britain and Ireland solid campaigning work by Hands Off the People of Iran[2] to release Panahi has been vindicated. Ever since he was detained over two months ago, Hopi has worked hard to place the issue of his imprisonment in the forefront of political life. Most recently, Hopi and the Labour Representation Committee jointly organised a well- attended solidarity screenings of his film Offside in London; further successful film events have been held in Manchester and Glasgow within the last two weeks.

Around the world, Panahi’s case has received wide support that has helped to build solidarity. On April 30 numerous Hollywood leading lights signed a petition for his release. Their petition read as follows:

“Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed Iranian director of such award-winning films as The white balloon, The circle, Crimson gold and Offside, was arrested at his home on March 1 in a raid by plain-clothed security forces. He has been held since then in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

“A recent letter from Mr Panahi’s wife expressed her deep concerns about her husband’s heart condition, and about his having been moved to a smaller cell. Mr Panahi’s films have been banned from screening in Iran for the past 10 years and he has effectively been kept from working for the past four years. Last October, his passport was confiscated and he was banned from leaving the country. Upon his arrest, Islamic Republic officials initially charged Mr Panahi with ‘unspecified crimes’. They have since reversed themselves, and the charges are now specifically related to his work as a filmmaker.

“We (the undersigned) stand in solidarity with a fellow filmmaker, condemn this detention, and strongly urge the Iranian government to release Mr Panahi immediately.

“Iran’s contributions to international cinema have been rightfully heralded, and encouraged those of us outside the country to respect and cherish its people and their stories. Like artists everywhere, Iran’s filmmakers should be celebrated, not censored, repressed and imprisoned.”

Signatories were Paul Thomas Anderson, Joel and Ethan Coen, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Robert De Niro, Curtis Hanson, Jim Jarmusch, Ang Lee, Richard Linklater, Terrence Malick, Michael Moore, Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese, James Schamus, Paul Schrader, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone and Frederick Wiseman.

Subsequently, on Saturday May 22, 85 Iranian filmmakers also signed a letter calling for Panahi’s release: “In view of the existing conditions for … Jafar Panahi, we the undersigners of this letter, a group of independent film-makers, call for the freedom and speedy consideration of his conditions and his demands in prison.” The previous weekend Jafar Panahi had started a hunger strike to underline his resolve. Veteran Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami also made vehement calls for Panahi’s release while in Cannes with his film Certified copy, where he handed out an open letter he had written to the Iranian authorities demanding his colleague be freed. Kiarostami was quoted as saying at a press conference subsequent to the screening of his film: “When a filmmaker is imprisoned, it is the art which is attacked. I believe we can’t remain indifferent to the situation.”[3]

Iran’s clerical regime had clearly been shaken by worldwide condemnation of Panahi’s incarceration. So much so that even before his release the panicked state-run Iranian media tried to allay spreading concern over his continued imprisonment that it started issuing statements about his imminent release. The official Iranian Students’ News Agency stated on Tuesday May 25: “Tehran’s public prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, said Iranian director Jafar Panahi is to be released on bail and the judicial verdict for his release has been issued.” ISNA even went so far as to admit that, “Panahi has been imprisoned since March 1 because of making a film about Iran’s post-election events.”[4]

Of course, while Jafar Panahi’s release is an important victory for solidarity and consistent campaigning work, many political prisoners remain in Iran’s jails. This was reflected in Jafar Panahi’s own stance in refusing to be bailed previously while others were still held in prison. It also informed Hopi’s campaigning slogan: Freedom for Jafar Panahi and all political prisoners in Iran! Meanwhile executions - state murders - are continuing: earlier this month, on May 9, five political prisoners were executed in Evin prison.

And, while we celebrate what solidarity has achieved around Jafar Panahi, we also must fight hard to ensure that US, British and the UN nest of thieves and butchers abandon their plans for regime change from above. Only Iran’s people can accomplish democratic change, and it is to them that we give our support and solidarity in their struggles. Let Panahi’s release spur us on to higher levels of such solidarity.



  1. See

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Panahi stages hunger strike

Panahi stages hunger strike

Ben Lewis reports on the campaign to free the outspoken film maker imprisoned by the Iranian regime

Activists in Hands Off the People of Iran have been informed that Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed film maker who has been incarcerated for over two months, has begun a hunger strike in Evin prison.

This is the latest brave step by Panahi, who is increasingly becoming a symbol of resistance. The solidarity he can generate is of grave cause concern for the Islamic Republic, despite its jails, armed thugs and reactionary militias. Panahi fully realises this, and he is using his standing to exert as much pressure on the regime as possible. He has refused offers of bail, saying that he will only accept it when all other political prisoners are released. Like him, the overwhelming majority of these prisoners were arrested as part of the shocking wave of repression unleashed by the regime in response to the enormous protests on the streets of Iran following last June’s rigged presidential elections.

As we have reported previously, Panahi has been subjected to rigorous interrogation in jail. The Evin interrogators appear to be pursuing the tried and tested approach of bombarding him with the same questions over and over again in order to force inconsistencies in his answers, backing this up with the soul-destroying conditions and humiliating treatment for which Evin prison has become infamous.

Last Saturday the authorities kept all inmates in his wing of the prison outside their cells in the open air for the whole night. Next morning he was interrogated once more, this time being accused of secretly working on a film from his cell. He is particularly concerned about some of the new threats that have been made against his family.

There is clearly a lot of work for us in the solidarity movement. We must do what we can to publicise Jafar Panahi’s brave stance, not least using his wonderfully human films. He - and indeed all the other political prisoners in Iran - cannot be allowed to suffer without an outcry. Holywood directors Martin Scorscese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Redford have issued forthright statements demanding his release. At this week’s 63rd Cannes Film Festival there were countless expressions of solidarity. One of the nine chairs for jury members remained empty in his honour. Given Panahi’s reputation internationally, it is quite striking that his case has hitherto been subjected to what John McDonnell MP has described as a “media blackout” in Britain, and we must break through this.

Simultaneously, it is vital ensure that the brutal actions of the Iranian state and its callous treatment of dissenters and critical figures of all kinds should not in any way be misappropriated by the US or UK governments to cover their designs on Iran and the region more generally. At a time when the permanent members of the UN security council - US, UK, China, Russia and France - have agreed on new proposals for a fresh round of sanctions, and when the rightwing Israeli politicians hypocritically hark on about the danger of a “second holocaust”, this is of the utmost importance.

Indeed, given that public opinion is not exactly welcoming the prospect of the further escalation of tension in the Middle East, one of the ways in which the imperialists may attempt to respond is to disingenuously latch on to the cause of Iran’s political prisoners. So there is a danger that the political and cultural establishment in the US and UK could hijack Panahi’s courageous stance for their own nefarious purposes. So we must redouble our campaign for the immediate and unconditional release not only of Panahi, but of all political prisoners, and link this with implacable opposition to imperialist sanctions and threats of war. A fight on two fronts which Hopi has conducted since its inception.

Solidarity success

May 12 saw well over 100 people attend a solidarity screening at London’s Soho Theatre of Panahi’s best known film, Offside, jointly organised by Hopi and the Labour Representation Committee. The event was the first in a series of film showings and solidarity events across the country. The Manchester screening took place on May 18, and there will be a further one in Glasgow on May 21.

The event opened with Soho Theatre’s artistic director, Lisa Goldman, providing a moving account of her work with Panahi on artistic projects in Iran. She was followed by John McDonnell, who outlined the significance of the campaign to free Panahi. “Every movement creates a symbol,” he said. “In refusing bail until all other political prisoners are freed, Jafar is taking a courageous stance that we in Hopi wish to applaud and highlight.” He emphasised the importance of Hopi’s core principles - against war or sanctions on Iran; but no support for the theocracy and unequivocal solidarity with genuinely democratic struggles from below against its rule, especially those of the workers’ movement.

This was a theme British-Iranian comic Shappi Khorsandi took up in her opening remarks to the audience, explaining that is why she “loved” Hopi. Offside was certainly a big hit with the audience: stormy applause followed its closing credits. At the end a message of thanks was read out from Panahi’s family.

PCS welcome

Hopi activists have been present this week at the Public and Commercial Services union conference in Brighton and our stall has had a very good response from delegates. PCS has been affiliated to Hopi since 2008 and the annual conference is always a good time to meet PCS militants new and old. Gratifyingly, the response we had from the delegates this year was particularly warm. We distributed some 400 information bulletins on the Jafar Panahi campaign and have already received over 50 signed postcards, which will be sent off in a special batch to Panahi’s family in Iran. We also raised funds for our campaigning work by selling numerous ‘No to war; no to theocracy’ badges and copies of Panahi’s films.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Execution to impose terror

Execution to impose terror

Our response to the judicial murder of Kurds should not be to call for the Iranian regime to be hauled before a tribunal for ‘crimes against humanity’, writes Yassamine Mather. It should be to step up our solidarity

Four of the five political prisoners executed by the Islamic government in Iran in the early hours of Sunday May 9 came from Kurdistan and were accused of membership of the left nationalist group, the PJAK (an Iranian version of the PKK). The executed prisoners - Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alamhouli and Mehdi Eslamian - all denied membership of “political organisations” and the PJAK issued a statement clarifying that none of those executed had any organisational links with it. Farzad Kamangar was a teacher and trade unionist who had been accused of “endangering national security” and “enmity against god”.

Although Iran has other major Kurdish nationalist organisations, dissatisfaction with the pro-western policies of the other groups, which have collaborated with US plans for ‘regime change’, has swelled the ranks of the relatively unknown and younger PJAK.

The PJAK claims that half of its members are women and that it supports women’s rights. It has been involved in many military confrontations with Iran’s security forces in Kurdistan. It claims its guerrillas fight inside Iran, and reports suggest that in August 2007 it managed to destroy an Iranian military helicopter that was conducting a forward operation of bombardment by Iranian forces. It has adopted many of the political ideas and military strategies of the PKK.

On April 24 2009, PJAK rebels attacked a police station in Kermanshah province. According to Iranian government sources, a number of policemen and eight rebels were killed in a fierce gun battle. Iran responded a week later by attacking Kurdish villages in the border area of Panjwin inside Iraq using helicopter gunships.

In April 2006, US congressman Dennis Kucinich sent a letter to George W Bush in which he wrote that the US is likely to be supporting and coordinating the PJAK, since it operates and is based in Iraqi territory, under the control of the Kurdistan regional government. In November 2006, journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker, supported this claim, stating that the US military and the Israelis are giving the group equipment, training and targeting information in order to create internal pressures in Iran. The accusations seem unlikely, given the PJAK’s membership of the PKK-led Kurdistan Democratic Confederation (KCK). However, even if the accusations are correct, members and supporters of this organisation join it precisely because of its leftwing politics and its claims of opposition to imperialist powers, rather than aligning themselves with the longer established, bourgeois nationalist parties.

The mass protests of 2009 and 2010 were all expressions of the opposition by Iran’s youth to the Islamic regime. However, in Kurdistan province that opposition is even stronger. The region known as Iranian Kurdistan includes the greater parts of the provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Ilam, with an estimated population of six to seven million mainly Sunnis. It has a long history of rebellion against the central government, going back to the Sassanid era.

In modern times, Kurds have rebelled on a number of occasions. During World War I, the weakness of the Qajar dynasty encouraged Kurdish tribal chiefs to take control of large sections of the province. In 1922, Reza Khan (the shah’s father and founder of the Pahlavi dynasty), sent his army to quash Kurdish rebellion. During the first years of the Pahlavi rule, Reza Shah pursued a crude policy of forcing Kurdish chiefs into exile, while confiscating their land and property.

At the start of World War II, Reza Shah showed open sympathies to Nazi Germany, prompting an invasion of Iran by Allied troops in September 1941. In the Kurdish regions, the Persian army was defeated and their ammunition seized by Kurds. With support from the Soviet Union, a Kurdish state was created in the city of Mahabad in 1946, but it lasted less than a year - the withdrawal of the occupying Soviet forces allowed the shah’s army to defeat the separatists. However, despite its short history the Mahabad republic played a significant role in radicalisation of Kurdish youth and their dream of a socialist Kurdistan.

Another wave of nationalism followed the fall of the shah in February 1979, and Iran’s first supreme religious leader, ayatollah Khomeini, declared a jihad against ‘Kurdistan’. In the spring of 1980, government forces under the command of president Bani Sadr attacked the cities of Mahabad, Sanandaj, Pawe and Marivan. Entire villages and towns were destroyed to force the Kurds into submission. Ayatollah Khalkhali, also known as the ‘hanging judge’, sentenced thousands of men to execution after summary trials while Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps fought to re-establish government control in the entire region. However, the central government did not fully succeed in the countryside and, as the Islamic state consolidated its power, arresting socialists and communists. Organisations of the Iranian left took refuge in Kurdistan, many spending most of the 1980s in that region.

In February 1999, Kurdish nationalists took to the streets in several cities against the government of president Khatami and in support of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. These protests were violently suppressed by government forces and at least 20 people were killed.

In November 2009 Iran’s Islamic Republic executed Ehsan Fattahian, a Kurdish political activist charged with being an “enemy of god” because of his political activities in support of Kurdish national rights. He was a member of Komala, one of the main political organisations active in Iranian Kurdistan since the 1960s, some of whose founding members had Maoist tendencies. When the Islamic regime took power, Komala participated in the first parliamentary elections. However, fearing Komala or leftwing victories in some of Kurdish seats, the regime cancelled the elections and sent in the military in the summer of 1979 to put down the ‘Kurdish rebellion’. Leftwing Kurdish political organisations, including Komala, were declared illegal.

In 1983, together with an Iranian socialist group, Unity of Communist Militants, Komala formed the Communist Party of Iran. In 1991, political differences with the UCM leadership led to a split, with the latter forming the Worker-communist Party of Iran. In 2004 there was a further split in the Communist Party of Iran, with the more nationalist faction led by Mohtadi deciding to relaunch Komala .

Mohatdi now considers himself a “revolutionary liberal”.[1] He has met American officials over the last few years at the state department and other government agencies[2] and many consider that the group has shifted to the right since the split with the CPI. Komala remains one of four major Kurdish parties organising in Kurdistan. Most activists of the organisation are unaware of the relationship of Mohtadi and other Komala leaders with the US.

Clearly Ehsan Fattahian, who had spent many years in prison, could not be held responsible for Mohtadi’s actions. In the same way Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alamhouli and Mehdi Eslamian are innocent victims of an Islamic regime that uses execution as a means of imposing terror at a time when protesters are preparing themselves for demonstrations commemorating the events of last summer.

Kurdish and Iranian political groups have called for a one-day general strike in Kurdistan on Thursday May 13 in protest at the executions and students have also showed their outrage, organising a spontaneous protest when Ahmadinejad visited Shahid Beheshti University on May 10. The mild disapproval of the executions expressed by ‘reformist’ leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi, who merely expressed his concern that the Islamic state’s legal procedures may not have been followed, left everyone, including some of his supporters, bewildered. The executions of these young Kurds will only increase the hatred felt towards the central government.

Ironically, earlier this month, no doubt at the urging of a politically correct adviser, Iran’s supreme leader, ayatollah Khamenei, issued an order forbidding the mimicking by Iranians of the accent of Kurds, Turks and other peoples when they speak Persian. It is fitting for our time that the ruler of a government responsible for the death of so many innocent Kurds - victims of air raids, helicopter gunships, military attacks and executions - should claim to be concerned by the hurt they might feel if their accent is mocked.

Following these executions, another call has been made by supporters of the many splinter groups originating from Fedayeen (Minority) for a tribunal of Iran’s leaders for ‘crimes against humanity’. Although I share their outrage, the reality is, we live in a world where major western ‘democracies’ - the US, UK, France, Italy and so on - are themselves guilty of appalling crimes committed in the name of their ‘war on terror’. The execution of political opponents by Israel, the US and its occupation allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention torture, waterboarding and the rest, are the order of the day. In such circumstance any ‘human rights’ tribunal in the west directed against Iran’s Islamic leaders would be grossly hypocritical.

I cannot speak for those executed this week, but I am sure the Fedayeen comrades I knew personally who lost their lives in executions or in the dungeons of the Islamic republic would want all of us to concentrate our efforts on supporting the important struggles of the Iranian working class against the regime and against capitalism rather than calling on the west to put this or that religious politician, judge or executioner on trial. There must be no illusions in western liberal democracy. Pinning our hopes on human rights lawyers and do-gooders will only hinder our activities in support of the ideals for which so many of our comrades lost their lives in Kurdistan and the rest of Iran.



Monday, April 12, 2010

From ‘smart sanctions’ to sanctions with ‘bite’

From ‘smart sanctions’ to sanctions with ‘bite’

It is the Iranian people who lose and the regime that gains from imperialist threats, writes Yassamine Mather

For the last few months, every day - and at times more than once a day - media presentation of world news has been dominated by US attempts to impose sanctions on Iran. Sometimes it is the visit of a foreign head of state to Washington that is the occasion for the latest call; at other times it is Hillary Clinton’s world tour, or a phone call from Barack Obama to a Chinese leader.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the US (the world military hegemon) is guarding against the danger posed by a hugely powerful state acquiring nuclear weapons. This could not be further from reality. Iran is a country where mass protests for over nine months have not only weakened the state, but also divided the ruling circles to such an extent that a resolution of the internal dispute is unlikely; where neoliberal policies and current levels of sanctions have created a serious economic crisis, with projections of inflation soon reaching 50% and youth unemployment now estimated at 70%. So what is the problem? Why are the US and, for that matter, the world media obsessed with the ‘threat posed by Iran’? A threat that has to be curtailed through the imposition of “severe” sanctions?

As we in Hands Off the People of Iran have stated time and again, the threat has clearly little to do with nuclear issues. Spies and physicists are unanimous that Iran is years away from achieving nuclear weapons capability. ‘Irresponsible’ countries - some with direct and clear connections to terrorist organisations, such as Pakistan, or with dangerous, trigger-happy ‘security’ forces, such as Israel - not only possess nuclear weapons, but refuse to sign up to the non-proliferation treaty, yet the US and its allies have no concern about the nuclear danger they present.

Could it be, as BBC Persian services commentators claimed last week, that the continuing conflict between the United States and Iran and the protraction of the mutual animosity has just become an aadat (habit)?[1] Clearly this cannot be considered a serious comment.

So why is the US obsessed with Iran? There are four main reasons.

1. The revolution of February 1979 deprived the US of one of its most important allies in the region, and the world hegemon power cannot be seen to be losing control in such a strategic area. Iran’s territorial waters include the Strait of Hormuz, which accounts for 40% of the world’s seaborne oil shipments and 20% of all shipments.

2. At a time of world economic crisis the US and its allies need to reassert their authority - not to mention the threat of conflict to boost military expenditure - and, with very few ‘rogue’ states left to choose from, Iran remains prominent in the foreign policy agenda.

3. One should not underestimate the humiliation the US suffered during the 1979-81 crisis, when its Tehran embassy staff were held hostage, and the need, felt by both Democrat and Republican administrations, for revenge.

4. Since the launch of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the US and its allies have inadvertently increased the influence and strength of Iran’s Islamic Republic in the region. There is no other significant power remaining. The US strategy of curbing Shia dominance and maintaining control of the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan necessitates confrontation with Iran.

As far as Iran is concerned, it clearly needs crises and foreign enemies to survive. How else could it explain its failure to achieve any of the basic demands of the February uprising after 31 years in power? The ‘external’ enemy is also essential for continued repression, and sanctions and a state of war are necessary to excuse economic hardship, low wages, unemployment and spiralling prices.

It is now clear that the US and its European allies as well as Russia have reached agreement on new sanctions. That is why recent efforts have been directed at China and, of course, the aim is to obtain a UN resolution - as a basis for a ‘legal war’ on Iran - which does require China’s vote or at least abstention on the security council. In addition China is Iran’s second biggest trading partner (after Germany) and any ‘comprehensive’ sanctions (or, according to the Obama administration, “sanctions with bite”) must include China. All the signs are that a Chinese abstention - or even a vote in favour - is now likely. According to Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, China has now officially agreed to enter talks with western powers about such a resolution.[2]

Although trade with Iran is important for China, clearly this has limited value, compared to issues more vital to its interests, such as a nuclear deal with the US, the postponement of a decision on exchange-rate policy (last week the US treasury held back from branding China a “currency manipulator” for refusing to float the yuan) and Taiwan (especially in view of the recent US arms sales).

The latest draft proposals agreed by the US, Britain, France and Germany include restrictions on new Iranian banks established abroad and on the insurance of cargo shipments to and from Iran. Commenting on potential restrictions on Iran’s petroleum imports, Iran’s oil minister, Masoud Mir-Kazemi, said the country had sufficient refining capacity. Yet there was panic buying on previous occasions when such threats became headline news. Iranian leaders are also claiming that any sanctions which disrupt the supply of crude oil would, in the words of one Iranian official, “lead to the intensification and prolongation of the economic recession in consumer countries.”[3]

If a UN resolution is not passed, chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested that Germany and other countries might impose their own sanctions. Obama and French president Nicolas Sarkozy discussed similar plans last week in the White House and Gordon Brown would be expected to push among European partners for measures above and beyond what is likely to be permitted by the security council. These include sanctions to deny Iran access to international banking services and capital markets, permission for Iran’s national airlines and air cargo carriers to use the airspace of the US and its allies, and restrictions on Iran’s shipping firms operating in waters controlled by them.

Sanctions legislation has now passed through both houses of Congress. The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which would penalise foreign companies helping Iran to import gasoline and other refined petroleum products by denying them access to US markets, is now law. Two bills proposing sanctions on leading officials of the Iran regime and the tightening of export controls now await action by a committee and could come into effect later this month.

We in Hopi oppose all imperialist sanctions - whether “smart” or “with bite” - not because we support the Tehran regime in any way: we most certainly do not. We oppose sanctions because they hit ordinary Iranians first and foremost. After three decades of such measures, no-one knows better how to make money out of sanctions-busting than Iran’s clerics and their bazaari allies. Some of them rightly claim to be experts in the operation of the black market, having made their fortunes during the UN embargo against Iraq.

Further sanctions will give the regime yet more excuses to increase repression, placing all the blame for the devastating situation inside Iran on the external enemy. Far from helping the anti-dictatorship movement, sanctions disable the Iranian working class, which faces unpaid wages and further unemployment. The only Iranian supporters of sanctions are, on the one side, the hard-line Islamists in the regime, who hope for an increase in nationalist feelings to save themselves from being overthrown; and, on the other side, their rightwing opponents in the royalist camp, who want to see the defeat of the mass democratic movement and are counting on ‘regime change from above’ to bring them to power. They view themselves as Iranian Chalabis or Karzais - at the head of a pro-US government that can continue Iran’s nuclear programme with the blessing of the ‘international community’.

Unlike the ‘reformists’, royalists and other bourgeois opposition forces, the Iranian working class has stated its position on nuclear development loud and clear, and we in Hopi support that position. We oppose the nuclear programme because it endangers its workforce and threatens the environment, because Iran’s nuclear plants are located in an earthquake zone, and because we believe in a non-nuclear Middle East in a non-nuclear world.

But, most of all, we oppose all measures, from sanctions to a full-blown military assault, that the imperialists threaten against Iran.


  1., March 19.
  2. The Guardian April 1.
  3. Reuters, April 5.Free Jafar Panahi and all political prisoners in Iran

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Opposition to imperialism does not mean support for Ahmadinejad

Opposition to imperialism does not mean support for Ahmadinejad

Mohammad Reza Shalgouni is a founder-member of the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran (Rahe Kargar) and has been elected as a member of its central committee on a number of occasions. He spent nine years as a political prisoner in Iran under the shah and today is an active supporter of Hands Off the People of Iran. Yassamine Mather interviewed him for the Weekly Worker

Could you explain the origins of your organisation and the space it occupies on the Iranian left?

Before answering your questions, I see it as my duty to thank your party, and especially the comrades involved with the Weekly Worker, for your coverage of issues concerning the movement of the Iranian people and working class. I hope your efforts can help eradicate the obvious misunderstandings of large sections of the western left.

Rahe Kargar started its activities in the early summer of 1979 and those who founded the organisation were mostly ex-activists of the guerrilla movement, who during their incarceration in the shah’s prisons had come to the conclusion that armed struggle had not only failed to weaken the dictatorship, but that it harmed the relationship between the left and the working class.

Rahe Kargar was one of the first organisations of the left that pointed out the reactionary nature of the Islamic Republic and more importantly deduced from this that the Iranian revolution was defeated once the clergy took power. The clergy was a force that would undoubtedly suppress the movement and independent workers’ organisations, as well as all aspects of modern culture (without which socialism would have no significance). It was with this analysis that, in the midst of widespread general optimism stemming from those who considered the ‘massive popular presence on the streets’ as a definite sign of the victory of the revolution, we drew attention to the threat of fascism and the need to confront its formation.

From our point of view, it was important to pay attention to the characteristics of the new dictatorship and to confront the forthcoming threat. Unlike a substantial section of the left, we considered the clergy and their influence and government as the main threat and, inspired by Marx’s analysis of the ruling classes in England and France in the 1850s, we said that, although the clergy in power is defending the interests of the bourgeoisie against workers and toilers, it has its own interests when it acts as a governing caste. And that this is a result of a Bonapartist equilibrium resulting from the simultaneous weakness of both the bourgeoisie and the working class, the two main classes in society, at a time when neither can take political power.

Rahe Kargar started its existence in opposition to the Islamic Republic and has continued to struggle against this regime. But we have always had clear and firm anti-imperialist positions and we categorically oppose any imperialist intervention in Iran or anywhere in the Middle East. We have always been against the dependence of opposition forces on foreign powers.

From the beginning we opposed the dominant traditional position of the Iranian left, concerning the ‘stage of the revolution’ or defence of the bourgeois democratic revolution, and we have always insisted that a durable democracy in the specific conditions of Iran is impossible without the working class coming to power. That requires independent mass organisation of the class in the political, economic and social arena and this cannot be achieved solely through party organisations. That is why non-party, mass organisations of the workers and toilers can also play an important role. In addition, party organisation might take the form of a number of socialist and workers’ parties, which can form a united workers’ front.

Two other issues that distinguish Rahe Kargar from other leftwing organisations in Iran are:

1. the attention we pay to the issue of nationalities in Iran (a multinational country); we defend the right of the country’s nationalities to self-determination, while emphasising the need for voluntary, democratic unity;

2. the destructive confrontation between tradition and modernity (a form of schizophrenia in our country) and putting an emphasis on the importance of keeping in touch with leftwing religious forces, which maintain a democratic and class understanding of religion and strive for a class alliance of workers and toilers.

In our opinion these are essential conditions for the class unity of the proletariat.

Can you give us an overview of the current situation, including the role of the reformists, the process by which sections of the movement became radicalised and the role of the working class?

In order to understand the dynamics of the current anti-dictatorship movement we must pay attention to a number of issues:

First, although this movement expressed itself in protests against rigged elections, its origins predate June 2009. In other words, in order to understand the situation we must remember that the gatherings in June in support of the reformists had nothing to do with people’s illusions about the elections or the reformists’ programme, but were mainly due to opposition to the institution of the vali faghih (Shia supreme religious leader). In fact these elections were similar to 1997, when people voted for Khatami mainly to confront that institution (the supreme leader wanted Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri to be elected at that time) and it should be said that at least during the last 10-12 years, the majority of Iranians have either participated in or boycotted elections as means of expressing opposition to the ruling dictatorship.

Second, the Islamic Republic has major differences with other dictatorships in the third world. We are dealing with a regime that came out of a mass revolution and for a while it did have considerable influence amongst the masses. The Iran-Iraq war (one of the longest of the 20th century) and political pressure by the United States and its allies throughout most of the last three decades have added to the regime’s need to mobilise its mass base.

However, the Islamic regime is also a rare entity amongst world governments in that the clergy has imposed religion as the dominant force in the state apparatus, denying people’s sovereignty even on a theoretical level and in its constitution. In addition, the Islamic Republic is a plural or multi-centred dictatorship, which so far has not succeeded in destroying its own factions and has not become a dictatorship run by a single individual.

Given the above, elections play a different and a more important role in this system compared to most third world dictatorships. Here the principal organs of power are not electable and elections are limited to the lower echelons within the power structure, which are controlled by the structures nominated by the supreme leader. Elections are above all a means to hide the absolute dictatorship foreseen in the constitution and to mobilise the masses, convincing them of a defining role in state policies. Elections are also a means by which the state organises relations between its own factions (its inner circles) and as a result of this the regime has no alternative but to take its elections seriously. So, once candidates have been screened by the Council of Guardians, there is less vote-rigging, compared with other dictatorships. That is why open electoral fraud disturbs the balance of forces in the regime, not only exposing its absolute despotism, but creating difficulties for regulating relationships between its factions.

Third, the Islamic Republic is a religious dictatorship. In this regime civil repression complements political repression. The regime considers daily and constant control over people’s lives as its raison d’être and this repression creates widespread popular resistance. Throughout the last three decades we have seen a weary, direct and indirect mass resistance to the regime’s efforts to impose sharia law and this has played an important role in the erosion of the regime’s support base. In this confrontation, middle layers of society have played an active role, especially in the major cities. That is why some foreign observers (erroneously) refer to the current protests as the revolt of the middle classes.

Fourth, although at the time of the revolution the religious leadership benefited from considerable influence and this was reflected in the support for the governments stemming from the revolution, the imposition of velayat faghih (guardianship by the supreme leader) created many contradictions, which not only forced the government into constant confrontation with society’s daily life and therefore confrontation with large sections of the population, but also created problems within the clerical hierarchy and the religious establishment.

These factors led to a situation where the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic was seriously challenged (in both the political and religious spheres) especially after Khomeini’s death and this precipitated the loss of it support base. In fact the appearance of the reformists (who mainly came from the ‘left’ faction of the regime, or the ‘imam’s line’ group in the first decade of the existence of the Islamic regime) and their victory in the 1987 presidential elections, has no other significance but a sharpening of this crisis of legitimacy. Efforts over the last 12 years by the office of the supreme leader to control the influence of government reformists were mainly attempted through the strengthening of organs under the direct control of the leader and rendering meaningless elected bodies. All this broke down the equilibrium that had previously existed, and it is no coincidence that the crises of the political and religious legitimacy of the regime have coincided.

The office of Iran’s supreme leader is not only in total confrontation with the people, but at the same time most of the Shia ayatollahs who are accepted as sources of religious guidance are trying to distance themselves from him. The truth is that the traditional Shia religious governance is a form of republic (in the way Engels refers to the Protestant church as the ‘republican church’ and the Catholic church as the ‘Royalist church’), but now vali faghih is trying to change it into a royalist system, making the independence of centres of guidance impossible.

Fifth, the vali faghih system is keeping all the real levers of power directly under the control of the supreme leader. In fact under the current constitution his absolute authority is unprecedented even in comparison to absolute kings. As far as religious matters were concerned, even the kings had to accept religious authority, whilst in Iran all the power of both religious and state authorities is concentrated in the hands of one leader. Given the needs of the revolutionary period and later the requirements of war, the first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, tried to present himself as the embodiment of popular will, but during the last two decades, as the crisis surrounding the legitimacy of the regime increased, Ali Khamenei has been forced to use levers of power under his control to neutralise the general and inevitable inclinations of the people and work actively to destroy them.

As a result of this absolute ‘royalist’ power embedded in the constitution, the regime has been recognised as a naked dictatorship by ordinary Iranians. Nowadays all its armed forces are under the direct control of the supreme leader and the president cannot even send a policeman to someone’s door without his permission. The Revolutionary Guards are not only in charge of national security: they also control many of the country’s major economic activities. Today, Iran’s economy is not just divided between the private and the public sector: there is a third, very powerful sector controlled by foundations under the direct influence of the supreme leader - even the parliamentary accounts committee has no control over it. According to some estimates, the resources under the control of these ‘foundations’ account for a quarter of the country’s internal gross production. The broadcasting authority is a state monopoly under the direct control of the vali faghih. The supreme leader is in charge of one fifth of the country’s oil income.

The coincidence of the economic crisis with the anti-dictatorship movement is a sign of the explosive potential of the current situation in Iran. During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, despite all the talk of ‘protecting the disinherited’, Iran’s economy has reached a more critical stage.

Unemployment is increasing at a frightening rate and, according to some estimates, amongst youth it has reached 70%. It should be noted that the 15-30 age group constitutes about 35% of the population. Before the elections, inflation was above 25%, according to figure released by Iran’s Central Bank (even after the manipulation of statistics), and despite the government’s denials it has gone up in recent months. In the first three months of Ahmadinejad’s presidency the cost of housing in most major Iranian cities rose by 1,500% and the cost of housing took up around 75% of the income of an average working class family.

Contrary to the illusions of some left groups outside Iran, Ahmadinejad’s so-called ‘pro-disinherited’ policies played an important role in worsening the structural crisis of Iran’s economy. The first term of the Ahmadinejad presidency coincided with an unprecedented rise in the price of oil and he spent a substantial part of the country’s oil income, as well as the country’s foreign exchange reserves, strengthening the social position of vali faghih. By injecting most of these resources into projects that had no economic value and only benefited the regime’s inner circles, the government created unprecedented inflation, the main burden of which fell on the shoulders of workers and toilers. It is enough to remember that, according to Ahmad Tavakoli (head of the research centre of the Islamic Majles, and one of the most hard-line Principlist-conservative factions of MPs), 46% of all the the ‘quick turnaround’ policies claimed by Ahmadinejad to confront unemployment never existed. In other words, all these claims were a cover for giving credit and low-interest loans (at times no-interest loans) to close associates of the vali faghih. Of course, had it been any different, it would have been surprising, because corruption is endemic in Iran’s Islamic Republic. In fact this regime has all the preconditions for relentless, institutional corruption. It is a rentier oil state and a brutal religious dictatorship, depriving non-believers of any rights.

Right now, according to figures released by the Central Bank, the country’s banking system is facing total bankruptcy, because the banks have provided 50,000 billion tomans (around $50 billion) in non-returnable credit, lost in handouts to the regime’s inner circles. Now, the banking system cannot even provide loans to small production units desperate for credit.

According to some evaluations, around 35% of the population live below the absolute poverty line. This means they face hunger and constant malnutrition. In addition to all this, as a result of the shortage of resources and considerable drop in oil income, the government has been forced to implement sudden measures to abolish subsides for all essential commodities, starting with the energy sector. The implementation of this policy will lead to a jump in the rate of inflation and increase poverty and destitution, making the lives of workers and toilers unbearable.

In view of all this, in my opinion the conditions are not suitable for reform. In general, reforms can only be achieved when the state is reasonably stable and the population is relatively calm and accepts the existing conditions. However, not only do people consider their situation unbearable, not only is there a lively protest movement, but the state is also at breaking point. In such conditions any retreat by the government will only encourage the people. That is why the reformists have little chance of gaining from the situation.

In reality, the electoral fraud, the removal of many reformists from power and the arrest of many of their leading figures was no more than a manifestation of the open bankruptcy of the reformist discourse in our country. It was not the reformists who rebelled against the vali faghih: it was the supreme leader who practically threw them out of the inner circles of the religious state.

In the midst of all this, the emergence of a self-instigated movement against electoral fraud propelled the reformists to the leadership of mass protests. That is the contradictory situation created by the rigged elections - reformists managed to lead the protest at the very time when the bankruptcy of the reform programme had become obvious. Clearly this situation cannot last long. We are now in the post-reformist era and the best proof of this is the growing gap between the slogans of the protest movement and the reformist discourse. The demonstrations that started with slogans like ‘Where is my vote?’ have now moved on to slogans such as ‘Death to the dictator’, ‘Death to Khamenei’, and even ‘Death to the principle of velayat faghih’.

The people’s protest movement started under reformist leadership for two obvious reasons:

1. the first protests were against election fraud and it was inevitable that candidates who lost should take pole position within them;

2. in periods of severe repression, protesters usually rely on some sort of cover to protect them - a cover that can reduce a little bit the cost of protest.

In any case, although the reformist programme was clearly bankrupt, the fact that reformists flocked to the ranks of the protest demonstrates the crisis within the regime. A phenomenon which is a necessary precondition for a revolutionary situation. Today, the presence of reformists on the side of the popular movement is a sign that the ruling order’s position is untenable. At a time when the regime cannot even tolerate reformists who abide by the velayat faghih constitution, we can see a sign of absolute dictatorship and despotism, reducing the regime’s chances of survival. Clearly this situation cannot last for a long time. However the reformists themselves have reached the end of the road - caught between the velayat faghih system and the anti-dictatorship movement of the masses, they are so hemmed in, they have lost the ability to take any initiative.

The brutal, repressive reaction of the regime in confronting the protests was one of the most important factors in the radicalisation of the protest movement over the last eight months. As I mentioned before, the protests against rigged elections (which was indirectly a protest against velayat faghih) disrupted the calculations of the regime. They had not expected mass popular interest in the elections and had even organised TV debates between candidates (a rare event in the Islamic Republic) to try and inject some enthusiasm and show the elections to be a real contest.

In the three weeks before the elections support for reformists candidates became so widespread that Ahmadinejad’s defeat was obvious to everyone. It was in this atmosphere that the vali faghih system, seeing a repetition of the 1997 elections, declared two days before the elections, via the Revolutionary Guards, that a ‘velvet revolution’ was being planned by western powers. On the day of the election itself the Revolutionary Guards staged a military manoeuvre in Tehran to stop this alleged attempt. The election headquarters of reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi was ransacked by plain-clothed security forces.

When the authorities saw the angry reaction of the masses after the announcement of the unbelievable results, they attacked Tehran University on the night of the election, killing a number of people and injuring more than a hundred. And again on June 15, when three million people were marching peacefully against the rigged results, they opened fire on defenceless protesters, killing more people and arresting hundreds. After that came the torture and rape of young boys and girls in prisons, and the death of more than a hundred political prisoners in detention. Illusions in reformism rapidly evaporated and slogans now clearly proclaimed opposition to all the main organs of the current order.

Throughout the last eight months, the shameless Goebbels-like lies of the regime has aggravated the situation. For example, they shamelessly claimed that Neda Agha Soltan, the young girl killed by the security forces, had died through a plot by a BBC reporter, even though witnesses to the attack arrested her killer and confiscated his security ID. When Massoud Ali Agha, a physics professor and supporter of Moussavi, was killed, they claimed he was a nuclear scientist and so Mossad had targeted him. All this, plus the escalating repression, has played a crucial role in reducing the reformists to a forgotten phenomenon and radicalising the youth (the main force behind the anti-dictatorship movement).

Contrary to the opinion of those who consider the movement ‘middle class’, there can be no doubt that workers and toilers have played a very important role in the current protests. For example, how can one say that the June 15 demonstration was only middle class, when Tehran’s mayor admits three million people joined the protest (in a city with a maximum of 12 million inhabitants). Of course, the workers were not raising their own slogans in this demonstration, but the same is true of other sections, such as women and the youth, whose participation in the protests is not in doubt.

We should not forget that we are currently dealing with an anti-despotic movement which is facing brutal repression. In such movements, political protests take the form of sporadic demonstrations, fighting here, fleeing there, and under such conditions workers cannot get involved in independent political struggle at their workplace or in the districts where they live. This is a point made by Rosa Luxembourg in her summation of the Russian uprising of 1905. The experience of the February revolution in Iran against the shah confirms this. In that uprising there was no sign of independent workers’ protests until the massacre of September 1978. It was only after that event (the police opened fire on demonstrators, killing large numbers), when street actions became more difficult and dangerous, that protests moved from the street to workplaces and gradually we witnessed important workers’ strikes. And, of course, at that time, until very close to February 1979, most of the workers’ strikes only raised economic and trade union demands.

At present too, despite all the arrests and repression of labour activists, workers’ protests in support of their demands has manifestly increased. A review of workers’ protests over the last eight months and a comparison of these with the same period last year leaves no doubt that the workers’ movement is on the rise. The least one can say is that without a movement based on workers, toilers and the poor (who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of the country) the current anti-dictatorship movement will get nowhere and in fact it is even difficult to envisage its continuation. Of course, the elimination of subsidies on essential goods (which is due to start in the first weeks of the new Iranian year, beginning on March 21) will no doubt lead to major workers’ protests and this can create suitable conditions for the development of class-consciousness.

We must also remember that under dictatorships people do not believe any of the government’s propaganda and in general do not consider the enemy of the government as their enemy (they are more likely to consider them as friends). In other words, that famous saying, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’, gains legitimacy. In today’s Iran, where the regime’s entire propaganda is geared towards opposition to the United States, public opinion against the US is weaker than in most Islamic countries. A couple of months ago when Obama was discussing the nuclear issue with the regime, in one of the demonstrations people were shouting, “Obama, Obama, you are either with them or with us!”

However, this does not mean people are oblivious to the dangers of military action or economic sanctions. One can say with certainty that the majority of Iranians are opposed to economic sanctions and any military action against their country. In particular, the US military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the general massacre and destruction it has created in our two neighbouring countries has had a profound effect on public opinion in Iran. There are even signs (unfortunately) that Iranians support the regime’s nuclear programme and would not even mind if their country possessed nuclear weapons. In fact the painful experience of the bombing of cities during the Iran-Iraq war and especially the indifference of western states towards the use of chemical weapons by Saddam’s regime during that war created a sense of nationalist impotence which the regime tries to use. It is no coincidence that at present the state raises the nuclear issue in order to divide the masses.

How optimistic are you regarding the future of this movement? What are the prospects of the working class putting its stamp on any regime that follows the defeat of the theocracy?

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for this movement. In fact, even if this movement dies down today and its continuation becomes impossible, what it has achieved so far will have historic consequences.

The events of the last eight to nine months have left the Islamic regime with no future. Even if it survives for a while, it will never recover from the fatal blows it has suffered at the hands of this mass uprising. The young generation, the main motor of these protests, did not witness the 1979 revolution or the bloody repression of the first decade of this regime and until recently it was preoccupied with minor changes and certainly not thinking about social revolution. This generation is now irreversibly against the very existence of the Islamic regime.

There is no doubt that during the last three decades Iran’s economy has fared worse than other countries in the region. For example, in 1977 (a year before the revolution), Iran’s gross national product per capita was 60% more than Turkey and five times more than Egypt’s. Now Iran’s GNP, despite its oil income, is only 14% ahead of Turkey, and just twice that of Egypt.

The civil repression imposed by the regime will have consequences that will be with us for a long time. It is enough to remember that Iranian girls have been deprived of participation in sport for three decades and have not taken part in any major international sporting competition. The damage resulting from this is a tragedy that is occasionally referred to even within the pages of the regime’s own educational journals. The reason is that, according to the clerics, girls’ sporting activity must not be seen from people in neighbouring buildings, for example, and this makes any form of sport in girls’ schools impossible. The absence of any rights for women has turned half of the society into second-class citizens, as far as law is concerned.

Around 15% of the country’s population - the Sunnis, who are mainly Kurds, Baluchis and Turkmens - face double deprivation because of their religious beliefs and this endangers the country’s territorial unity. It is a weapon in the hands of the US and its allies.

For all its claims of supporting the ‘disinherited’, Iran’s Islamic regime is thoroughly corrupt, it is a parasitic state, pursuing brutal, anti-worker policies. According to many estimates, the current line of poverty in Iran stands at 800,000 tomans ($800), while the official minimum wage (which is often ignored and workers are paid less) is 300,000 tomans ($300). More than 80% of workers have temporary jobs and those in workplaces of less than 10 employees (ie, the majority of Iranian workers) are officially exempt from any labour legislation. For them it is the law of the jungle. Even those activists who demand the establishment of independent workers’ organisations or workers who fight for payment of unpaid wages are arrested and tortured.

It is revealing to compare the government’s attitude towards capitalists and managers compared to its attitude to workers. Last year when the government announced a two percent rise in tax for bazaar merchants, it faced a strike by shop owners in the Tehran bazaar and the state retreated immediately.

All this shows that the current anti-dictatorship movement is the only hope for improving the plight of the working class and ordinary people in Iran. The continuation of this movement and expansion of its scope has created a suitable atmosphere for raising class-consciousness and the formation of independent workers’ organisations and no doubt will improve political conditions in favour of workers to such an extent that it will, in the words of the Persian proverb, learn in one night what usually takes a century. Of course, if the regime creates such an atmosphere of fear where workers’ participation in political and economic protests becomes more difficult and costly, there is a danger that the struggle will take a violent form, when the role of organisations associated with foreign powers would increase, initiatives from below by the working class would fade away and reactionary, anti-democratic forces would gain the upper hand.

Let us not forget that, unlike the shah’s regime, Iran’s Islamic Republic has many powerful enemies throughout the world who seek to find allies amongst the forces opposed to the regime. No doubt such a scenario will harm democratic and socialist forces within the movement and it will give the regime an excuse to link the people’s legitimate struggles with foreign powers. In my opinion the worst scenario in the current situation would arise if groups associated with foreign powers gained more influence within the opposition, because even if they do not manage to stifle the protests they will divert it from its democratic direction.

However, given the current awareness amongst social movements inside Iran, especially amongst the youth over the last 10-12 years, one can be hopeful that the anti-dictatorship movement will not be diverted from such a path. Of course, liberal discourse still dominates Iran’s political scene and the left has a steep hill to climb to overcome this problem. But if the protest continues and takes a revolutionary path, as the role of the working class increases, the conditions for the dominance of socialist thought will develop.

How do you see radical change in Iran linking in with political developments in the region as a whole?

The coming to power of the clergy in the February 1979 uprising in Iran undoubtedly played a significant role in the development of Islamic movements in the region. In my opinion, the overthrow of the Islamic Republic in Iran can play an important part in weakening the influence of Islamic movements.

The reality is that Iran’s Islamic experience is about 10 years older than other countries and so disillusionment with Islamism came much earlier than in other Muslim countries. The overthrow of the Iranian regime could increase that process in other countries, even though it might not necessarily lead to the coming to power of defenders of socialism in our country. Given the current situation in Iran and the region, such a perspective is possible.

It should be pointed out that, although liberal discourse is still powerful in Iran, the economic crisis engulfing world capitalism, the destructive effects of US military intervention, the bankruptcy of corrupt, pro-western regimes in the region and the fact that they are not tolerated - all this has created suitable conditions where, with the demise of Islamism, toilers in the region might turn towards more enlightened horizons. We are now witnessing the Islamic movements subsiding and if US military interventions stopped this decline would be faster. In none of these countries would liberalism be capable of responding to the stacked up problems of poverty, dictatorship and obscurantism, nor can it benefit from mass support amongst workers and toilers.

Right now in two key countries of the region, Egypt and Turkey, a powerful working class movement is rising and if in Iran the anti-dictatorship movement succeeds in strengthening the working class left (and in my opinion there is a strong possibility of that happening) it may be that a ‘strategic bloc’ would be created in these three key countries. A strong left in Iran, Egypt and Turkey would be in a good position to oppose not only the swagger about the ‘free market’ and neoliberalism, but also the obscurantist slogans of Islamism. In reality both currents are not as attractive as they used to be in the Middle East and if the left can learn from past mistakes and take up a democratic, radical, mass-orientated discourse, our region can move in a direction similar to Latin America.

The principal danger for the formation of such a perspective in our region is the destructive policies of the US. For example, Nato’s plans in Afghanistan and Pakistan might lead to the disintegration of both countries - a phenomenon that will be as destructive as an earthquake for the whole region, and especially Iran. Countries in the region have strong religious, tribal and cultural links and Iran has more than 2,500 kilometres of common borders with these Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tribal strife in Kirkuk could heat up dangerous nationalist strife in Iraq, strengthening such arguments in the region and producing disastrous consequences.

What are the role and tasks of the international solidarity movement with those fighting the Iranian regime?

Undoubtedly the solidarity of western organisations and parties with the Iranian people has an important subjective effect on political and social activists inside the country.

Of course, we must have a realistic understanding of this influence. The truth is that the Islamic regime has a monopoly when it come to the radio and television that is available to all and especially the lower classes. These media present everything in a distorted manner, with Goebbels-like lies, and constantly make use of the support of some western left groups who praise the regime’s anti-imperialism! This creates a certain hatred of the ‘international’ left amongst the population. Let there be no doubt: any support for the regime is met with nothing but animosity from the people it suppresses. Satellite radio and television, available to around 20% of the population, is mainly controlled by the US, UK or sections of the opposition directly or indirectly connected to foreign powers and most of them are anti-left and combine opposition to the regime with propaganda for the stance of the US and its allies.

Expressions of support for the working class movement in Iran from international progressive, leftwing organisations is mainly possible through the internet. However, although it is the most important means of communication for the majority of anti-dictatorship activists, inevitably it has a limited number of users - an optimistic estimate would be that 10% of the population has access to the internet.

Despite these limitations, though, support for the anti-despotic movement and, of course, for worker struggles plays an important role in strengthening the left and attracting the country’s youth towards socialist ideas. Let us not forget that there are already favourable conditions for the re-establishment of a strong worker-socialist movement and clear positions taken by socialist forces in the west help bring neoliberalism as well as Islamist ideas into disrepute. In my opinion the anti-war, anti-sanctions movement abroad undoubtedly has a positive influence on the Iranian people, because, as I said before, the overwhelming majority of Iranians do not want to see a repetition of the Iraqi or Afghan experience in their own country, and they have seen how it is ordinary people who suffer the burden of sanctions (Iran has already had three decades of sanctions).

But the important issue is that opposition to the imperialist policies of the US and its allies must not lead to support for the Iranian government. Unfortunately the position of certain ‘anti-imperialist’ forces in the west is as damaging as the stance of those who support military intervention and sanctions. It is vital to oppose war and sanctions, but it must never take the form of supporting the dictatorial, bloodthirsty and obscurantist Islamic Republic. We must not forget that any support for the Islamic regime discredits leftwing and socialist ideas and in practice strengthens the hand of the US and its allies. Whether they like it or not, leftwing apologists for the regime actually help strengthen the imperialist, pro-capitalist camp in our country.

Our readers have followed Rahe Kargar’s stance on many issues for over two decades. Could you explain the reasons for last year’s split in your organisation?

The reason for the split was that for quite a while a group of people had tended towards a kind of reformist anarchism and latterly they wanted to impose their anti-organisation model on the rest of us.

Of course, they were only a minority, but others who did not necessarily agree with them politically ended up supporting them organisationally, creating conditions which would have meant nothing but dissolution. This made coexistence in the same organisation impossible. Amongst the comrades who had more formulated ideas were those who followed an interpretation of John Holloway’s ‘change the world without taking power’. But they propagate a caricature version of this, portraying any organisation as stifling and they are opposed not only to the notions of a working class party and state, but even to trade unions and other workers’ organisations.

The conflict started around an article written by one of the comrades regarding the establishment of independent trade unions in Iran. This comrade warned workers that such an organisation would lead to hierarchical structures and claimed that unions, which limit their politics to economic issues, would benefit the liberals and pave the way for conciliation with capitalists. Those responsible for the website and the organisation’s paper, followed our internal rules and put this article in the ‘point of view’ section of the website and some comrades considered this discriminatory. The reality is that the Iranian working class is actually fighting to establish independent organisations and it is not our policy to leave the working class defenceless.

Another difference arose around Palestine, starting with Israel’s attack on Gaza. They thought the condemnation of Israel’s crimes must be expressed in such a way that it would not strengthen Hamas and, although this was not clearly expressed, they wanted us to condemn both sides (Israel and Hamas) equally. Our position was that Israel’s crimes must be condemned unconditionally and firmly.