De strijd voor een socialistisch Iran

Hieronder publiceren we een Engelstalig LSP-pamflet over de strijd voor een socialistisch Iran. Het uitgebreide pamflet is het resultaat van een reeks discussies van LSP-leden van Iraanse afkomst en andere kameraden. Hiermee willen we onze werking in de Iraanse gemeenschap in België versterken en een analyse beginnen uitwerken over hoe stappen vooruit kunnen worden gezet in Iran zelf. Geïnteresseerden zijn welkom op een open vergadering in Leuven op 12 mei (zie onderaan het pamflet).

PDF-versie van dit pamflet (this pamphlet as a pdf-file)

The struggle for a socialist Iran

How can democratic rights be guaranteed in Iran?

How to end poverty, low wages and unemployment?

On the surface it can seem that the hardliners of the clerical dictatorship are in total control of the situation. The reformist movement around Khatami has been smashed. But in reality explosions of struggle by workers, poor peasants and young people are inevitable. We see this already in the frequent strikes of workers – which the regime falsely claims are “not political”. Big movements and mass struggle for democratic and human rights, but also for social justice are rooted in the situation.

But what is the alternative to the “Islamic Republic”, based on capitalism, which now exists? Is it the kind of “democracy” which exists in Iraq, still under American occupation? Will democratic, human and social rights be stable and guaranteed under a new, “democratic” capitalist regime? As members of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI – an international socialist organisation which in Belgium is called LSP-MAS) we don’t think this will be the case.

Under current conditions Iran, even when a bourgeois democracy is introduced, will be dependent on foreign investment. The big international companies will demand the same miserable conditions as those of workers in China and India. Iran would not be independent of imperialism and its institutions (like the IMF, which imposes privatisation of public services on poor, neocolonial countries). Mass poverty and unemployment, the lack of a future for the mass of young people will continue. Only a small capitalist elite will grow rich, at the cost of the majority of working people and youth.

Lessons of the revolution of 1978-79

The revolution of 1979 against the dictatorship of the Shah had the possibility of becoming a socialist revolution. What was missing, was a party basing itself on the experience of the international working class and socialism. Mass illegal demonstrations started in Iran between october 1977 and february 1978. Demanding democratic rights and their share in the country’s wealth, the students and then the working class were ready to oppose the regime on the streets.

Following the shooting of hundreds in the holy city of Qom in january 1978, a general strike of two million in Tehran spread to Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashad. Placards called for: “Revenge against the brutal Shah and his American imperialist friends.” Others demanded: “A socialist republic based on Islam”. The soldiers began to show solidarity with the protesters, calling out: “We are with the people”.

Workers took control of their factories. Unfortunately, none of the left wing forces put forward the idea of workers power in a serious way. The stalinist Tudeh Party said they were for a “democratic Muslim republic”. They formed an alliance with the clergy around Khomeini. Khomeini was forced to give some concessions to the masses, but at the same time he started to use repression against strikes and actions of the workers in the factories.

The Islamic Republican Party, established by the clerics of the newly formed Revolutionary Council, was linked to the old petty bourgeois (small capitalists) and the bazaar merchants. They wanted order and capitalist private property to be defended. Without a clear revolutionary, socialist leadership the mass movement was taken hostage by Khomeini and the right wing mullahs.

Causes of the reformist movement (“dovvome khordad”)

The mullahs took political power. They wanted to implement Islamic law and bring the country back to 1400 years ago. All unrest and protest was brutally suppressed in the name of Islam.

In 1980 Saddam attacked Iran. A bloody war took place, which cost more than 1 million lives. To win the war the mullahs stimulated Iranian nationalism and called it a “holy war”. They sent a lot of young children to war with this propaganda. In this way they tried to save their own leadership and turn attention away from the social problems in Iran itself. Workers’ and student rights were brutally suppressed. A terrible censorship was imposed on the press.

After this horrible war which caused poverty, corruption and put an extreme pressure on the mass of the people a small political opening was forced on the regime of the mullahs. Newspapers started to cautiously report on social problems. After the 8 year war all social problems couldn’t be blamed anymore on the war. International sanctions were broken and Iran was able to export oil. The working masses and young people expected a better life, health and welfare. But the situation didn’t get better. Even a large number of voluntary young soldiers, who had supported the regime during the war, lost their trust in the mullahs. Pressure in society built up, as criticism grew against the corruption and financial scandals of the ruling elite – which was a clergy basing itself on capitalism – while the majority were denied basic social and human rights.

At the same time the number of students in the universities was growing quickly. In 1996 there were more than 30 million young people under 25 years old in Iran. They became one of the strongest opponents of the regime.

The western theories and science which were taught in the universities not only had no similarity with whatever was taught in the Houzeh (a classic school for mullahs). Sometimes they were totally different and even contrary to those ideas.

Anger amongst the mass of the oppressed people grew in the 1990’s. They wanted a better life, health, employment, respect for human rights, a more “democratic system”,… A part of the regime felt that a change was needed. This resulted, at the end of the 1990’s, in the massive vote for Khatami in the presidential elections. He got 20 million votes, which was enormous in the history of Iran. We, as marxists, described these events at the time as: “reforms from above to prevent a revolution from below”. Khatami was a channel to manipulate discontent, without allowing a real independent voice or organisation for the working class and young people.

In this period a lot of newspapers were published who started to criticize the regime, the lack of democratic and human rights, especially also of women. A lot of questions without any clear answer came into the public sphere. The hardline mullahs, with the aid of the police, regularly tried to terrorize parts of the reformist movement. A lot of students and journalists were condemned and sent to prison.

While the reformists controlled parliament and the presidential cabinet, the wing around Khamenei controlled the courts and tribunals. Eventually, all the reformist press and newspapers were closed and a lot of opponents of the regime were condemned to long term imprisonment or execution… The hardliners also attacked some ministers of the Khatami-cabinet, forced them to resign and finally brought them to court and in jail. These developments showed the enormous pressure on the regime, but also the limits of reforms from within the existing regime. Without a determined struggle of the working class through unions and its own political organisations democratic rights and a better life can’t be won. This, according to the CWI, should be viewed in the light of the struggle for a different, socialist society.

Fight for a socialist Iran!

The official student movement became totally disappointed, because they had demanded big reforms and a free referendum to have a secular regime. Without finding an active link to the working class, however, this wasn’t possible to realize. The student movement seperated itself from Khatami. The mass of the people was thoroughly disillusioned in Khatami and the reformist clergy, who couldn’t fulfill any of their demands. We saw the signs of this defeat and distrust in two recent elections: during the council elections in big cities like Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan only 12% participated in the elections (compared with 85% in the presidential elections). In the parliamentary elections of last year only 40% of the people participated. In the mean time ongoing strike movements, for example from workers in the petro-chemical industry, showed the capacity to struggle of many sections of the working class.

Without independent unions for working people these struggles are difficult to unify. 40% of the Iranian people live under the official poverty line. We need to demand democratic rights as free speech, free organisation of parties, but link this immediately to demands for decent housing, more jobs, decent wages, free education,… Only a mass movement of working people and youth, independent of the Iranian capitalist class, can reach these aims. The idea of democratic control of the wealth of the country, of a democratically planned economy, should again be put on the agenda. Workers and youth should, through a mass movement against the dictatorship of the mullahs, built democratically elected councils in the workplaces, the neighbourhoods, schools and universities. Elected representatives of the workers and poor should be subject to the immediate right of recall and not receive more than the wage of an average skilled worker.

The CWI appeals to every worker and youth in Iran to build with us a world party of socialist revolution. A successful revolution based on the working and poor masses in Iran would immediately change the situation in the whole of the Middle-East. Right wing political islam would fundamentally be undermined: it is an enemy of the working class and does not want to end capitalist slavery. All capitalist dictatorships in the region would tremble on their foundations. Join us in the fight for a socialist Iran, as a step to building a voluntary federation of socialist states in the Middle-East. Only in this way can poverty, desperation and misery for workers, poor peasants and youth be overcome. Join us in the struggle for a socialist world!

Theory: Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution”

The experience of the Russian revolution of 1917 showed us that independence of imperialist domination for (neo)colonial countries, real democracy and freedom can only be guaranteed by a government of workers and poor peasants, and a struggle for socialism.

Leon Trotsky; one of the leaders of the Russian revolution, showed that the local capitalist class was dependent on the investment of foreign imperialism. They would try to prevent a new, independent competitor coming on the world market, which was already divided among the leading industrialised countries. Also for Iran this is the case. Under conditions of capitalist world economic crisis, living standards can’t rise for the neocolonial countries. Only the workers and poor can show a way out. Like in Russia in 1917, the struggle for democratic demands should be linked to the need to control the wealth of society, the factories, machinery, raw materials, etc.

Only by the working class coming to power, supported by the poor peasants or urban petty bourgeoisie, can real independence from imperialism be won, can oppression of minorities and women be ended, can real democracy – which also means control of the wealth produced by the working masses – be guaranteed. The revolution becomes “permanent”: democratic demands are linked to socialist demands for workers’ control and management of production and society. To consolidate the gains of the revolution against imperialist attack, the workers government goes further with the call for an international socialist revolution.

Bourgeois parties are not on our side

No illusions in the European Union

Some believe we should lean on the European capitalist leaders to press for change in Iran. However, they have their own interests, which are decided not by human or social rights, but by the economic interests of western companies. These politicians – also the representatives of the social-democratic parties or Green parties – have been implementing a neoliberal programme of attacks on welfare, public services, wages,… of European workers. They, apart from words, are not interested in really defending working people in Iran.

There are 2 sides to the economic exchange between Iran and the European Union: the export from the EU to Iran and the import in the EU from Iran.

1- Export from the EU to Iran: This is a very big part. Why? Because Iran has been under an economic siege from the United States after the revolution of 1979. Therefore, the Iranian regime must buy most what it needs from the EU market. For example: machinery for the oil industry, airplanes, goods used in transport. Iran buys almost all of these things at high prices.

The EU, not openly but in the background, is the biggest investor in shipping, the oil industry, the petrochemical sector, farming material,… in Iran. For the EU Iran is a good and rich market: they don’t want to loose this market and don’t want to make it unstable.

2- Import in the EU from Iran: Most import is from the oil industry. Iran has the second biggest oil and gas reserves in the world. This also makes it an important country for the EU. The EU works together with the mullahs more and more because every year its economy needs more fuel, and it doesn’t matter for these politicians if the mass of the people suffer from dictatorial leaders. Capitalist companies and their governments only want their profits and don’t think about the suffering of ordinary people.

All of the EU’s politicians know the true face of those kind of Middle-East regimes. On the one hand they try to buy cheap oil. On the other hand, the EU-governments – under pressure from the Iranian regime – easily declare the opposition parties “illegal” and attack their offices with police forces.

In fact, we think it is a mistake of the opposition outside of Iran if it tries to lean on imperialism and the EU. We can only have trust in the international class solidarity between working people. Not in capitalist politicians who don’t want a fundamental change in the way we lead are lives.

Capitalism does not change anything: we can see this kind of change in Iraq, and all the misery that it brought. The working people of Iran must liberate themselves and put in place their own government, making a break with imperialism and fighting for socialism.

Marxism and religion

As marxists we defend the right to practice a religion, or to practice no religion at all. We are against the abuse of religion by the state, like in Iran where it is used to justify a cruel dictatorship. We are for religious freedom, but state power should be seperated from an “official” religion. Marxists are for the unity of the working class around the social problems facing us, and will fight for the unity of religious and non-religious workers and youth. It is the ruling classes which have often used religion to divide the mass of the people.

Through the ages ruling classes have used religion to justify unequal economic systems. They have used it to keep power in the hands of the few, against the majority of the exploited classes. Often, the more deeper social and economic problems have been, the more the ruling class has spread propaganda for a religious ideology as an answer to these problems.

Marxists are mostly “materialists” (in the philosophical sense) and, consequently, don’t believe in a supernatural God, but we have to fight against the attempts of the ruling class to divide the working class through religion and defend the unity of religious and non-religious workers. One of the reasons why the Shah’s regime fell was a direct confrontation against Islam. This made the religious, right wing leaders more respected among the people. After the revolution of 1979 the mullahs formed a new ruling elite and abused religion to justify war and economic misery.

Because of the crimes of the regime, gradually religion has been fading among young people. A research done by the government showed that 80% of young people in Iran don’t believe in “Islam” and don’t want the islamic “sharia rules”. The mass of young people in Iran face fanatical religious hardship from the beginning of their education.

A lot of them come to the conclusion, after some years, that the problems they encounter in life cannot be resolved by praying. In Iran, if you want to get in the colleges and universities and even in the administration, you must have knowledge of the “rules of Islam” and praying. But most young people do it for a short period and then they will leave it: only the name of the religion remains in their head. Only a socialist system will guarantee at the same time religious freedom for all religions (also those of oppressed minorities) and the end of the abuse by the state of religion for its own ends.

The student movement in Iran

History shows that students can play a very important role in a revolutionary movement. In Russia, in the beginning, the marxist circles where largely composed of students looking for a road to the working class. Also in France, in may 1968, we saw a revolt of the students which lead to the biggest general strike in the history of France, with 10 million workers participating. Young people have often been described as the “flame of the revolution”.

The actual situation of the Iranian student movement, unfortunately, is not so good. The Iranian students participated, more than any other social group, in the “khordad the second” governmental reformist movement. Consequently, they have more than any other social group temporarily lost their struggle energy. Now, after the complete defeat of this reformist movement, universities are one of the most silent places on a political level.

In the period that the reformist movement was still alive (1997-2001) and that considerable parts of the masses had illusions in Khatami, any time the students insisted on their purely “student character” the action or campaign remained unsuccessful. It is not surprising that the main slogan of DTV – the official student movement – in the famous student uprising of 1999 was: “to remain inside the universities”.

On the other hand, every time non students – workers and poor urban people – were involved more in the demonstrations, they became much more political, the reformist leaders lost their authority and small revolutionary cells could lead the action.

We must not forget what the potential is of universities as a place in which the political struggle against the bourgeois Islamic republic can take form. The demands for social and democratic rights of students furnishes the ground for a combative movement. To put it more concretely: we should remember that the bureaucratic structure of management of the universities is in favour of the regime and against benefits for the students.

For example, the chairmen of universities are appointed by the ministry of higher education. The fact that we don’t have any independent student unions yet puts a lot of work in front of us to help to create them.

By creating independent student unions, we can get more passive layers of students to come into action. On the other hand, we can neutralize the attempt of reformists to pretend that they are the real “voice of the students”.

Now they are investing politically in the slogan of a “student parliament”. It is clear that with such a passive atmosphere and such an oppressive situation this doesn’t allow radical students to become openly active. These parliaments from the very beginning will become bureaucratic tools in the hands of different wings of the regime. The slogan of independent student unions can neutralize these bureaucratic attempts by the government.

To summarize:

1.the most important step forward in universities is to create independent student organizations (unions) that can unite the mass of the students around immediate social and democratic demands

2. within the student unions a revolutionary socialist wing should be built which consciously tries to link the demands of the students to the demands of the working class and builds for this union in action – only this coming together of the struggle of the youth and working people can fundamentally change the regime and society

3. only a revolutionary party based on the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky,… can unify the struggle and link it to the struggle on an international scale for socialism – join the CWI!

This pamphlet is the product of an analysis by Iranian and Belgian members of LSP-MAS, the Belgian section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).

The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) is a campaigning international socialist organisation based in over 35 countries. The CWI is part of the struggle to overthrow the rule of big business and global capitalism. We fight for a democratic socialist society internationally. Join us today

Read the website of the CWI:

Website of LSP-MAS (French and Dutch):

Meeting “What is the political alternative for Iran? How can we achieve change?”

On Thursday 12th of may, 20h in MTC 0.16 (Hogeschoolplein, Leuven)

Org.: LSP and Active Left Students

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