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Workers Hammer No. 218

Spring 2012

Down with imperialist sanctions!

US, Britain, Israel hands off Iran!

Turning the screw on Iran, the US, Britain and the European Union are imposing successive rounds of punitive sanctions with the stated purpose of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Israel is talking about air strikes, while US defence minister Leon Panetta has opined that there is a “strong likelihood” that Israel will attack Iran in the next few months. Democratic US president Barack Obama and prime minister David Cameron have both made clear that “all options” will be kept on the table, including military action. In Westminster, the Labour shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander agreed that Iran needs “to feel the full force of the international community” (Guardian, 19 February).

Imperialist sanctions are devastating the economy: inflation in Iran is skyrocketing, unemployment is shooting steadily upwards and food and petrol prices are soaring. Beginning in November, the British government, in co-ordination with the US and Canada, moved to implement a virtual international financial quarantine of Iran. On the instructions of the European Council, Swift, the system that arranges international money transfers, announced that on 17 March it would discontinue its communication services to Iranian businesses and banks, including the central bank — which handles the export of crude oil — effectively cutting Iranian banks out of the international system.

These measures strike at the heart of Iran’s economy, its oil exports, the source of 75 per cent of the government’s revenue. Sanctions imposed by the US include the power to penalise those countries which import Iranian oil. Any bank handling payment for such sales can be denied access to the US financial system. Under US pressure, Turkey has declared it will slash its purchases of Iranian oil by 20 per cent; other big buyers of Iranian oil, including Japan, South Africa, India and China, have also reduced their orders. On 23 January the EU — which currently buys about 20 per cent of Iran’s oil exports — approved a ban on imports of Iranian crude which is due to take effect in July. The latest sanctions caused a hike in world oil prices with potentially dire consequences for the crisis-ridden world economy. Thus the EU sanctions were delayed until July to allow time for importers to find alternative sources of oil. To make up the shortfall, Saudi Arabia has ramped up production levels to a 30-year high.

Iran has been on the receiving end of covert operations and provocations by Israel, Britain and the US. In January, Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan became the latest victim of a series of assassinations of Iran’s nuclear scientists. This comes in the context of unexplained bomb explosions at nuclear facilities, not to mention the Stuxnet computer virus, designed to sabotage Iran’s enrichment of uranium, which affected a number of centrifuges.

The Iranian government has always insisted that its nuclear programme is intended solely for peaceful purposes. It should be noted that the 20 per cent uranium enrichment level cited by the imperialists as approaching the level that can be used in weapons is the same needed for medical isotopes for cancer treatment. Even pro-imperialist analysts have admitted there is no evidence that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. In 2007 the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) — a summary of the views of senior officers from all major US intelligence agencies — concurred “with high confidence” that Iran had stopped working towards a nuclear weapon in 2003. As journalist Seymour Hersh explained: “The Iranian nuclear-weapons program evidently came to an end following the American-led invasion of Iraq, in early 2003, and the futile hunt for the Iraqi W.M.D. arsenal” (New Yorker website, 6 June 2011).

In 2007 the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) conceded that Iran had dismantled efforts to build an atomic bomb four years earlier. Last November, contradicting their previous conclusion, the IAEA released a report darkly hinting about “indications” that “some activities” related to nuclear weapons may have continued after 2003 and “may still be ongoing”. The IAEA has found no new evidence, but continues to raise allegations, complaining in February about being unable to verify “the absence of undeclared nuclear material” in Iran (Guardian, 24 February). As a body of the United Nations, the IAEA is far from neutral. According to a cable released by WikiLeaks, the IAEA’s director general, Yukiya Amano, who took over in 2009, was described by the American charge d’affaires as being “solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program” (Guardian, 23 March).

Indeed the fact that Iran does not have nuclear weapons makes a military attack on the country by Israel and/or the imperialists more likely: the 2003 war on Iraq took place precisely because the imperialists knew the country was almost completely defenceless. First they destroyed the country’s infrastructure in the 1991 Iraq war. As a result of over a decade of sanctions an estimated one and a half million people, the majority of them children, died due to malnutrition, dirty drinking water and lack of medical supplies. Ten years of inspections by the imperialists’ agents of the IAEA guaranteed that the country had been effectively disarmed by the time the second Iraq war was declared. It isn’t hard to see the parallels between today’s moves against Iran and those preceding the 2003 attack on Iraq: years of sanctions, cynical claims of “noncompliance” towards international “inspectors” (ie, spies) and transparent lies about hidden “weapons of mass destruction” poised to wreak havoc on humanity.

In the face of imperialist nuclear blackmail and continuing military threats, it is entirely rational and necessary for Iran to pursue getting nuclear weapons and adequate delivery systems to deter attack. As the Council on Foreign Relations, a major think-tank for the US ruling class, admits, nuclear weapons “offer a deterrent capability: unlike Saddam’s Iraq, a nuclear Iran would not be invaded, and its leaders would not be deposed” (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2010).

In the event of any military attack by the imperialists or by Israel on Iran, working people and the oppressed internationally must not be neutral but must take a clear side with Iran. As Marxists, we do not give an iota of political support to the reactionary Islamic regime in Iran now headed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But it is the nuclear-armed US, backed by their British imperialist junior partners, who are the main enemy of the world’s working people and oppressed. The imperialist ruling classes who today threaten Iran are the same cabals that gorge themselves on profits while busting unions, throwing millions out of work, slashing social services, destroying health care and stealing pensions. In opposing the imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and other imperialist adventures, we seek to mobilise the working class in struggle at home and to promote the understanding of the need to sweep away the murderous imperialist order through socialist revolution.

For class struggle against British imperialism!

It is the height of hypocrisy for the US rulers, echoed by imperialist Britain and France as well as Israel, to rail that Iran has “no right” to nuclear weapons. These nations possess enough nuclear firepower to destroy humanity many times over. The United States stands alone in not only possessing a vast nuclear arsenal but in having actually used it against defenceless people. The barbaric atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 incinerated some 200,000 Japanese civilians and served no military purpose but to send a message to the Soviet Union that the US meant to reign supreme. For their part during WWII, the British imperialists firebombed the civilian population of Dresden and deliberately starved the population of Bengal.

British imperialism is justifiably hated in Iran, as was seen when angry crowds chanting “death to England” stormed the British embassy in Tehran last November in response to the Cameron government’s sanctions. As the New York Times (29 November 2011) noted: “The United States may be the ‘Great Satan’ to Iran’s theocratic rulers, but it is Britain — the crafty old colonial power whose designs in Iran go back two centuries — that is still widely blamed for every major upheaval in the country.”

The present bloody mess in the Near East is the legacy of the carnage, savagery and “divide-and-rule” machinations of British imperialism when it was the dominant world power. British imperialism sought to appropriate for itself access to Iran’s oil wealth for over a century, engineering a number of “regime changes” and, in 1941, invading the country and occupying the oil region in the south. When the nationalist government of Mohammad Mossadeq, elected in 1951, proposed to nationalise Iran’s oil, the Labour government of Clement Attlee imposed a naval blockade in the Gulf. The British hatched a plot to overthrow Mossadeq but lacked the wherewithal to carry it out, until they could persuade the CIA to take it over. Mossadeq was toppled and replaced by Shah Pahlavi, whose savage rule the imperialists propped up for 25 years.

Down with the sheikhs, generals, mullahs and Zionist rulers!

The imperialist powers who have Iran in their crosshairs today have historically provided support for Israel’s nuclear programme while helping to maintain a veil over the extent of Israel’s nuclear stockpile. The working class internationally is indebted forever to Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility, who in 1986 revealed that Israel had acquired an arsenal of some 200 nuclear warheads. For his heroic exposure of the scale of Tel Aviv’s doomsday machine, which targeted the USSR as well as nations in the Near East, Vanunu was convicted of treason and served 18 years in prison. He has been forbidden to leave Israel since his release in 2004.

In their war drive against Iran, Israel’s Zionist rulers have the backing of the venal capitalist rulers of many neighbouring Arab states. Exacerbating religious tensions in the region, Sunni Muslim states led by Saudi Arabia have become increasingly hostile to Shi’ite Iran. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, a massively armed and repressive sheikhdom, has been a linchpin of US domination of the oil-rich Gulf region since the 1940s. Regarding Iran, Saudi King Abdullah has been egging on the US to “cut off the head of the snake”. Hamas, which for years was sponsored by Iran and had its external base in Syria, has announced that in the event of a war between Israel and Iran, it would not come to Iran’s military aid.

Iran has become further isolated in the region by the instability of the regime in Syria, Tehran’s most significant Arab ally. Syria is a patchwork of potentially hostile ethnic, national and sectarian groupings, where the ruling minority Alawites hold sway over the Sunni majority, Kurds, Druze and others. For over a year, Bashar al-Assad’s reactionary Ba’athist regime has faced — and brutally repressed — an insurgency led by no less reactionary forces centrally from the Sunni Muslim population and backed by sundry imperialist and regional powers. The US, Britain and Turkey have given their blessing to the arming of the Syrian rebels, using proxies to avoid openly flouting UN sanctions against Syria. The three countries have said that they “could welcome Saudi and Qatari efforts to give weapons to the rebel Free Syrian Army” (Financial Times, 1 April).

Key Syrian opposition leaders have appealed for imperialist intervention, as did the “rebels” who became willing tools for the NATO terror bombing of Libya that led to the ouster and assassination of Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi last year. When opposition to the rule of bourgeois strongman Qaddafi took the form of a civil war between the government and the opposition forces, Marxists had no side in the conflict, which was overlaid by tribal and regional divisions. But when the imperialist bombing began, we did have a side: we called on workers around the world to take a stand for military defence of semicolonial Libya against imperialist attack, while giving no political support to the Qaddafi regime (see “Defend Libya against imperialist attack!” Workers Hammer no 214, Spring 2011). Today we demand: Imperialist hands off Syria! In the event of an imperialist attack, we would stand for the defence of Syria while maintaining proletarian political opposition to Assad’s blood-soaked rule.

Mounting pressure against China

Following years of brutal occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US is beefing up its military contingent in Kuwait, while reinforcing its naval presence in the Persian Gulf. The Obama administration has been pursuing a stronger military alliance with the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, dominated by Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile the US and Turkey have announced the placement of an American anti-missile radar system on Turkish territory, 435 miles from Iran.

Chief among US rulers’ concerns in redirecting their forces is pursuing the military encirclement of China, the largest and most powerful of the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states. In the name of “fighting terrorism”, the US has in the past decade enhanced its military presence in the Philippines and resumed open military relations with Indonesia, in addition to establishing bases in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Washington has also strengthened military ties with the Japanese imperialists and continues to buttress capitalist Taiwan. Recently the US deployed the first instalment of a planned 2500 marines to Darwin in northern Australia as part of the encirclement of China.

Capitalism was overthrown in China by the 1949 Revolution. Today, despite major inroads by both foreign and indigenous capitalists, the core elements of China’s economy remain collectivised. Ultimately, the imperialists aim to restore capitalist rule in China, and for this they have a multi-pronged strategy: capitalist economic penetration combined with military pressure and support to domestic counterrevolutionaries, such as the “Free Tibet” movement. It is vital for the international proletariat to stand for the unconditional military defence of China and the other deformed workers states — Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos — against imperialism and internal counterrevolution. Against the sabre rattling over North Korea’s attempt to launch a satellite into orbit, we reassert that we support the testing and development of nukes and delivery systems by North Korea and China.

China is highly dependent on the flow of Iranian oil — in 2009, Iran ranked as China’s second largest oil provider. Despite this fact, the Stalinist regime in Beijing supported all four previous rounds of UN sanctions directed against Iran. It has also embraced the imperialists’ “war on terror”. Through their futile attempts to appease imperialism and their hostility to the programme of world socialist revolution, the Chinese Stalinist bureaucracy undermines the defence of the workers state. It is necessary for the Chinese proletariat to carry out a political revolution to oust the Stalinist misrulers and establish a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.

Echoing imperialist hue and cry

The task of revolutionaries is to make clear that only proletarian socialist revolution in the imperialist countries can end the subjugation of the neo-colonial world. This stands in contrast to the Labourite-pacifist stance of the Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) campaign which is dominated by the self-styled Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and supported by some Iranian leftists and Labour MPs, including John McDonnell. HOPI’s founding statement (8 December 2007) proclaims: “For a Middle East free of nuclear weapons as a step towards world-wide nuclear disarmament!” Notwithstanding its stated opposition to Israeli, British and American nuclear weapons, HOPI’s call for nuclear disarmament in the Middle East dovetails with the imperialist warmongering against Iran. In a November 2011 article on Iran, HOPI stated: “Unlike some politically demented leftists, we say that nuclear weapons in its hands would be a defeat for the forces of democracy and radical social change, as well as a profoundly destabilising development in the region.” In today’s world, possession of nuclear arms has become the only real measure of national sovereignty against the imperialist bandits.

HOPI calls for “regime change from below” which, in the absence of anything resembling a call for proletarian independence from the capitalists, can only mean the Green Movement or some similar bourgeois “democracy” movement. The Green Movement in Iran first rose in June 2009 during the presidential elections between Hussein Moussavi, a “reform” cleric who was prime minister for eight years under Khomeini, and Ahmadinejad. After losing the utterly fraudulent election, Moussavi placed himself at the head of the subsequent mass protests. About a year ago Moussavi, his wife, and fellow leader Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani were placed under house arrest, from which they continue to organise their “Green Movement of Hope”.

HOPI does not explicitly support Moussavi, whom they flatteringly describe as a “timid reformist” (24 November 2011). This former prime minister was one of the founders of the “Islamic Republic” and is no less a butcher than his rivals in the current regime. While he was prime minister from 1981 to 1989, untold thousands of leftists, Kurds and women’s rights activists were slaughtered in the prisons and buried in mass graves. A decade later, in 1999, militant student protests were drowned in blood by the “reform” government of then-president Mohammad Khatami, now a Moussavi ally.

Cheerleaders for Islamic reaction

HOPI sometimes makes correct criticisms against the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) for capitulating to Islamic reaction, as well as for having supported NATO’s lackeys in Libya. The SWP is a consistent cheerleader for Islamic fundamentalist forces, from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the imperialist-backed Libyan “rebels” (see “Military and Islamists target women, Copts, workers”, Workers Hammer no 217, Winter 2011-2012). The SWP’s infatuation with anti-communist Islamists began with their support to the Islamic “revolution” in Iran which they greeted with the euphoric headline: “The Form — Religious, The Spirit — Revolution!” (Socialist Worker, January 1979).

The 1979 “revolution” was hailed by almost the entire left internationally, including the once-powerful Iranian left. The mass mobilisations that toppled the hated Shah’s regime were channelled into support for the Islamic hierarchy under Ayatollah Khomeini who seized power and went on to crush struggles by workers, women and oppressed national minorities. Women were segregated from society under sharia law and forced to don the sweltering head-to-toe veil; workers organisations were smashed; leftists were jailed and executed. Uniquely, our organisation, then known as the international Spartacist tendency, championed the proletariat’s class interests against the forces of Islamic reaction. Our battle cry was: “Down With the Shah! Don’t Bow to Khomeini! For Workers Revolution in Iran!”

The triumph of the mullahs in Iran opened up a period of rising political Islam throughout the Muslim world. Islamic fundamentalism was enormously aided by the imperialists who lavishly funded, supported and trained the cut-throat forebears of the Taliban — the mujahedin — against the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s (see “Afghanistan: Women Under Imperialist Occupation”, Workers Vanguard no 998, 16 March). In Britain, within weeks of the December 1979 Soviet intervention against the mujahedin, then-cabinet secretary Sir Robert Armstrong argued in a memorandum to prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the foreign secretary and the head of MI6 that they should “encourage and support resistance”, saying: “The existence of a guerrilla movement in Afghanistan would be a focus of Islamic resistance which we should be wanting to continue to stimulate” (Guardian, 30 December 2010). In contrast to the SWP and the bulk of the reformist left who stood with the imperialists in railing against the Soviet intervention, we said: “Hail the Red Army in Afghanistan!” The Soviet bureaucracy treacherously withdrew the army in 1988-89, paving the way for counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, a historic defeat for workers of the world.

The Near East is a battleground of imperialist rivalries that are driven by the need to control the region’s oil reserves. The region is also characterised by deep-going oppression — of women, of national and religious minorities as well as homosexuals. Iran is a prison house of ethnic minorities — Kurds, Baluchis, Azerbaijanis as well as Turks. Iran’s multinational proletariat has suffered decades of intense repression; in recent years Iran’s working people, youth and women have been chafing under the mullahs’ rule. Today, along with most other layers of Iranian society, the working class is further ground down by the imperialist economic stranglehold and the regime’s austerity measures.

The multinational Iranian working class, leading all the oppressed behind it, must overthrow the Persian-chauvinist, clericalist regime. But to emerge as a class fighting in its own interest and in the interest of all the impoverished and oppressed, it must be broken from religious fundamentalism and all bourgeois political forces, including “pro-democracy” outfits like the Green Movement which itself is led by clerical forces. Key to this perspective is the forging of a Leninist workers party in Iran as part of fighting for a socialist federation of the Near East. This is necessarily linked to the need for class struggle by workers in Britain and other imperialist centres to sweep away the rapacious imperialist rulers through workers revolutions. US/Britain/Israel hands off Iran! Down with imperialist sanctions!


Workers Hammer No. 218

WH 218

Spring 2012


Down with the bosses' EU — For a workers' Europe!

Banks starve Greek working people

For a Leninist-Trotskyist party!


Quote of the issue

Marxism and the emancipation of women


Fred Zierenberg

1949 — 2012


Myth of Solidarność "left" falls flat

Polish elections and the bogus Labour Party


TV executive on trial for blasphemy

Tunisia: Islamist furor over Persepolis


ILWU holds the line against union busting

Lessons of the battle of Longview


Protest state vendetta against Longview ILWU and its allies!


Down with imperialist sanctions!

US, Britain, Israel hands off Iran!