Workers Vanguard No. 939
3 July 2009
Imperialists Hands Off Iran!
Down With the Clerical Regime! No Support to Reform Mullahs!
For a Leninist-Trotskyist Party in Iran to Fight for Workers Revolution!
JUNE 29—A few short months after celebrating the 30th anniversary of its bloody and oppressive rule, Iran’s Islamic Republic has been convulsed by the largest protests since the “Iranian revolution” of 1978-79. The massive demonstrations were sparked by the widespread belief that incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, supported by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had stolen the June 12 presidential election from opposition candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi. After a week in which hundreds of thousands filled the streets of Tehran and other cities chanting “Death to the dictator” and “Allah Akbar” (“God is great”), the regime struck back. Scores of demonstrators were reportedly shot by the hated paramilitary Basij militias, linked to the elite Revolutionary Guard, as well as by police, while hundreds have been locked up in the notorious Evin Prison. The International Communist League, of which the Spartacist League is the U.S. section, calls on the international workers movement to demand: Free all anti-government protesters!
The fraud surrounding Ahmadinejad’s re-election became a focus for the broad discontents felt across Iranian society, from women compelled to wear the hijab (veil) and youth punished for public displays of affection to widespread poverty and growing unemployment. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets demanding new elections. Certainly, plenty of signs indicate voter fraud. But the elections—vote-rigging or not—were themselves a fraud, controlled by the mullahs, who approved all candidates in advance.
Part of the basis of support for Moussavi is his call for vague “reforms” on women’s rights and other social questions. But Moussavi, one of the founders of the Islamic Republic, is no less a butcher than his opponents in the current regime. Under Moussavi’s reign as prime minister from 1981 to 1989, untold thousands of leftists, Kurds and women’s rights activists were slaughtered in Iran’s prisons and buried in mass graves. Hundreds of thousands more died in the bloody war with Iraq in the 1980s. In 1999, militant student protests were drowned in blood by the “reform” government of then-president Mohammad Khatami, a current ally of Moussavi.
While the forces demonstrating in the streets of Iranian cities are heterogeneous, they are politically subordinate to one side of what is essentially a falling out between rival factions within the ruling clerical elite. A key ally of Moussavi is the notoriously corrupt former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; known as the “pistachio king,” he may well be the richest man in Iran. Moussavi and Rafsanjani have called to further “open up” the economy through privatizations and foreign investment. They have also sought to tone down the “anti-imperialist” demagogy associated with Ahmadinejad. Abroad, the protests are being cheered by a spectrum of Iranian political forces ranging from royalists to bourgeois democrats and the remnants of the left. The workers and oppressed of Iran have no interest in supporting either of the cabals fighting over how best to pursue the mullahs’ bloody rule.
The U.S. and British imperialists have sought to intervene in the political turmoil, beefing up their radio broadcasts into Iran. Obama declared that he was “appalled and outraged” by the crackdown in Iran. Meanwhile, nearly 200,000 U.S. troops continue to ravage Iraq and Afghanistan on Iran’s eastern and western borders, while U.S. special forces carry out clandestine operations within Iran itself. After 30 years of the oppressive rule of the mullahs, there are doubtless many in Iran who have illusions in Western bourgeois democracy or see the “democratic” imperialists as a potential ally. Such illusions may have been further fueled by the initial softer (than the war-crazed Bush gang) tone adopted by Obama toward Tehran upon taking office.
Whether administered by Democrats or Republicans, U.S. imperialism is the deadliest enemy of working people around the globe. It was the CIA, in collaboration with the British, that organized the 1953 coup that overthrew then-prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq to reverse his nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The imperialists then reinstalled the Shah into power and backed the tyrannical, blood-drenched Pahlavi dynasty until its overthrow in 1979. Down with the imperialist occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq! U.S. out of Pakistan and Central Asia! Imperialists hands off Iran!
The U.S. imperialists and their nuclear-armed Israeli allies have repeatedly threatened military action against Iran’s nuclear program. In the face of such threats, we say that Iran needs nukes to deter such an attack. Neighboring Iraq’s lack of “weapons of mass destruction,” including nukes, emboldened the U.S. to invade and occupy the country, leading to the horrific carnage and occupation of the last six years. While calling for military defense of neocolonial countries like Iraq and Iran against imperialist attack, we do not give an iota of political support to their rulers, who lord it over their “own” oppressed masses. We say: Down with all the sheiks, colonels, mullahs and Zionist butchers! For a socialist federation of the Near East!
Reformist Left Bowed to Mullahs
All sides in the tumult shaking Iran today hark back to the 1979 overthrow of the country’s despised autocrat, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, as a model for their political activity. At that time, the convulsive opposition to the monarchy included powerful workers strikes in the oil fields and throughout the country; Iran could have become the cockpit of proletarian revolution in the Near East. However, the mass mobilizations were channeled into a reactionary crusade for an “Islamic Republic,” with virtually the entire left in Iran and internationally cheering on the mullah-dominated opposition led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Uniquely on the left, we called for the proletariat to struggle independently of and against the Islamic hierarchy, to sweep away the Peacock Throne and establish a workers and peasants government.
The establishment of a Shi’ite theocracy following the overthrow of the Shah resulted in the savage repression of Kurds and other minorities; the execution of strikers, homosexuals, adulterers and others accused of “crimes against God”; the stoning of unveiled women, the slaughter of leftists and the suppression of all opposition parties and press. As we wrote in our International Declaration of Principles (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 54, Spring 1998):
“The 1979 ‘Iranian Revolution’ opened up a period of ascendant political Islam in the historically Muslim world, a development which contributed to and was powerfully reinforced by the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union. Khomeini’s seizure and consolidation of power in Iran was a defeat akin to Hitler’s crushing of the German proletariat in 1933, albeit on a narrower, regional scale. The international Spartacist tendency’s slogan ‘Down with the Shah! No support to the mullahs!’ and our focus on the woman question (‘No to the veil!’) stood in sharp opposition to the rest of the left’s capitulation to mullah-led reaction.”
Today, much of the reformist left repeats the treacherous policies of 30 years ago by lining up behind one or another wing of the ruling clergy in Iran. The remnants of Tudeh, the pro-Moscow Communist party that supported Khomeini and then was crushed by him, called for a vote to “reformist candidates,” including Moussavi, whose hands are covered with the blood of their own comrades (Tudeh News, June 2009). Meanwhile, the fake Trotskyists of the Iranian Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency (IRMT), associated with the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) led by Alan Woods, dimly appealed in a June 16 open letter to Moussavi (www.Marxist.com): “You must either side with the people who voted for you or with the vali-e faghih [Supreme Leader] (and the repressive apparatus of the state). Being at the service of the people would mean that you should cut your links with the whole state apparatus.” The IRMT describes itself as descended from the Iranian Socialist Workers Party (HKS), which also supported Khomeini’s rise to power.
In the U.S., some left groups have sided with the pro-Ahmadinejad wing of the clerics against the protests, claiming that in this way they are opposing U.S. imperialism. A June 24 article posted on the Workers World Party (WWP) Web site declared, “Revolutionary socialists or communists sharply differentiate themselves from Ahmadinejad on many points. In the current conflict, however, his side is more anti-imperialist.” After three decades of the mullahs’ bloody rule, WWP still proclaims: “The Iranian people have benefitted enormously from their revolution and cannot easily be turned back” (Workers World, 17 June). Likewise, a June 22 article (pslweb.org) by the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), a split-off from WWP, denounced the protests: “U.S. and British imperialism hope that a victory of this movement would result in the counter-revolutionary overthrow of the anti-colonial 1979 revolution.”
Key to the future of Iran is the proletariat, the only class with the social power and objective interest to lead radicalized youth, women and oppressed nationalities behind it in an assault on the capitalist system itself. While individual workers have no doubt participated in the protest demonstrations, there is no sign as yet that any section of the powerful Iranian proletariat has intervened to assert its independent class interests against the Islamic regime. Two statements by workers groups in Iran have been widely posted on the Internet. One, signed by “Laborers of Iran Khodro” (the largest automotive company in the Near East) called for a 30-minute protest strike in “solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran.” And in a statement by the Vahed Syndicate, representing Tehran bus workers, the union similarly expressed support for “the movement of Iranian people to build a free and independent civil society.”
The fundamental question facing the Iranian proletariat today is the need to build a Marxist workers party that fights for the class independence of the proletariat—from the clerics, the nationalists and the pro-imperialist elements—and for working-class rule. A key difference between the situation today and that of 1979 is that, before the victory of the “Islamic revolution,” significant sections of the proletariat were led by leftist parties, centrally Tudeh. That generation of left-wing worker cadres was wiped out by the very regime that the leaders of Tudeh and other left parties helped bring to power.
For Permanent Revolution!
In 1978-79, the left in Iran and internationally supported the Khomeini-led forces of clerical reaction by claiming that they were leading an “anti-imperialist” revolution. The International Socialist Organization headlined an article: “The Form—Religious, The Spirit—Revolution” (Socialist Worker, January 1979). The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the U.S. proclaimed “Victory in Iran: Iranian Masses Show the Way for Workers Around the World” (Militant, 23 February 1979). Brian Grogan, a leader of the British group of the fake-Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec) of the late Ernest Mandel, even boasted that he had joined in chants of “Allah Akbar” during demonstrations in Tehran. The HKS, affiliated with the USec, went so far as to run in 1979 for election to the mullahs’ Assembly of Experts—before joining the ranks of the mullahs’ victims.
While we rushed to the defense of the HKS and other leftists victimized by the mullah regime, the American SWP and the USec, blinded by their grotesque opportunism, for months minimized the danger to their own imprisoned comrades. As we wrote in “SWP/USec Criminal Tailism: History Takes Its Vengeance” (WV No. 239, 14 September 1979): “USec, SWP, HKS—Ernest Mandel, Jack Barnes and the rest: you have committed a crime, for which you will be held responsible before the court of history. You must live with it because your own comrades may die for it.”
The so-called “Islamic revolution” of 1979 represented a negative confirmation of Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky’s theory and program of permanent revolution. In the epoch of imperialism, all wings of the bourgeoisie in countries of belated capitalist development like Iran are too dependent on their ties to the imperialists and too fearful of independent working-class action to play any progressive role. They are incapable of solving the bourgeois-democratic tasks associated with the great European revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries, such as agrarian revolution, national independence, democratic freedoms and women’s rights.
The experience of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution showed that it is only the proletariat, leading the peasant and urban plebeian masses, which can liberate the societies of countries of belated capitalist development. In the Near East, only the proletariat can break the chains of reactionary traditionalism and imperialist subjugation. As Trotsky declared in 1928: “The further East we go, the lower and viler becomes the bourgeoisie, the greater are the tasks that fall upon the proletariat” (The Third International After Lenin). In seizing state power and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, the workers of the backward countries will be compelled to institute socialist measures, such as the expropriation of the means of production and the establishment of a planned economy. However, these revolutions will survive and flourish only if they are extended to the advanced capitalist countries of the West and Japan.
Rejecting this Marxist perspective, Tudeh, following in the footsteps of the Stalinized Communist International (Comintern), insisted that because of Iran’s economic and historical backwardness, the proletariat could not take power in its own name. Instead, they argued that there must be a “two-stage revolution,” the first stage of which would be led by the “progressive” or “anti-imperialist” bourgeoisie and limited to solving democratic capitalist tasks. Socialist revolution, they claimed, would come in the distant, unspecified future. As always, the second, proletarian, stage of the revolution never came.
Tudeh and the rest of the Iranian left invested the Islamic clergy with “anti-imperialist” credentials, blinding their working-class base to the grave dangers they faced in the event of a mullah victory and setting the workers up for brutal suppression. In fact, in the early years of the mullah regime, Tudeh cadre went so far as to fight shoulder to shoulder with the murderous pasdaran and the fascistic hezbollahi thugs in killing other Iranian leftists. And during the Iran-Iraq War, which was reactionary on both sides, the Tudeh party told its members to report to their mosques (!) for military duty under the pasdaran.
In promoting the concept of “two-stage revolution,” Stalin and his cronies could at least claim that they were giving support to modernizing bourgeois forces. For example, during the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27, the Chinese Communist Party was directed by Stalin and his henchmen to subordinate itself to the bourgeois-nationalist Guomindang led by Chiang Kai-shek. The Stalinists argued that this step toward consummating the supposed “first stage” of the Chinese Revolution was justified by the fact that Chiang opposed the decaying Manchu Dynasty and decried the binding of women’s feet. Nevertheless, the result of this Stalinist betrayal was the slaughter of tens of thousands of Communists and militant workers who were disarmed by Chiang in the Shanghai massacre of April 1927.
What claim to modernism could the retrograde caste of mullahs in Iran possibly have had? The reactionary character of the Islamic opposition was manifest from the outset, above all by its position on the woman question. As we warned in “Down With the Shah! Down With the Mullahs!” (WV No. 219, 17 November 1978):
“The Muslims call for an Islamic republic. They support the Constitution of 1906 and particularly the added 1907 clause which explicitly guarantees clerical veto power over all legislation. The mullahs’ opposition to the shah is a reactionary one, no matter how it plays on the crimes of the shah’s dictatorship. The fanatical hatred of social advances since the time of the prophet Muhammed (the seventh century A.D.!) has its parallels in the military-based regimes of Pakistan or Libya and in the region-wide revival of religious obscurantism and its vicious oppression of women.”
The Islamic Republic has been hell for women. After coming to power, Khomeini reimposed the hijab for women in public. Those who flouted the edict were subjected to 74 lashes or a year’s imprisonment. Meanwhile, a man’s testimony was deemed worth twice that of a woman. Lashings and amputations were applied by the courts, and women convicted of adultery could be subject to stoning. Child marriage was re-introduced, while laws encouraged polygamy and prevented women from leaving abusive husbands. The husband’s right of unilateral divorce was reinstated.
Nevertheless, modern practices have seeped into Iran. While child marriage was reintroduced, the average age of first marriages for women has continued to rise from about 19 before 1979 to 24 today. According to the New York Review of Books (2 July), literacy rates exceed 95 percent for both sexes. Today, a majority of college students are women. But despite these trends, women constitute only 15 percent of the formal-sector paid labor force. The 2006 Iranian census revealed that only 3.5 million Iranian women were salaried workers, compared with 23.5 million men.
During a wave of protests in Iran six years ago, we laid out our perspective for women’s liberation through socialist revolution:
“In the countries of the East, the question of women’s oppression is one of the most powerful motor forces of socialist revolution. Indeed, when the Bolsheviks arrived in Central Asia in the years following the October Revolution, it was among women that they found the main point of support for their program and won their key cadres. The same holds true for Iran. A Leninist-Trotskyist party, championing women’s rights against the age-old stranglehold of religion and the family, will find its most loyal and courageous fighters among women.”
—“For Workers Revolution in Iran!” WV No. 807 (1 August 2003)
WCPI: Apologists for “Democratic” Imperialism
The Worker-communist Party of Iran (WCPI) has denounced both the Ahmadinejad and Moussavi wings of the clerical regime. However, in its opposition to the Islamic Republic, the WCPI has had a long history of appealing to the imperialist powers—far greater enemies of the world’s oppressed than the ayatollahs of impoverished neocolonial Iran—as potential allies. Thus a WCPI representative wrote to the London Evening Standard (17 June) regarding the protests in Iran: “Now is the time for people in the west to exert pressure on western governments to politically isolate the regime rather than excuse and legitimise it.” A June 22 Web posting boasts that WCPI leader Hamid Taqvaee “wrote to heads of states and the UN Secretary General on behalf of the people of Iran calling on governments ‘to immediately break all political ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran, shut down its embassies and consulates and ensure its expulsion from the United Nations and other international institutions’.”
The reactionary nature of the WCPI’s appeals to “democratic” imperialism has actually played out in Iraq. In 2003 the WCPI’s then-sister organization in Iraq supported the imperialist occupation of that country, calling only to replace the U.S./British occupiers with “the intervention of the United Nations.” This was after a UN embargo of Iraq, imposed following the 1991 Gulf War, had resulted in the deaths of some one and a half million people.
At the same time, the WCPI stands out among Iranian left groups for prominently raising the key issue of women’s rights and for opposing the veil. Yet following the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 against a CIA-backed Islamic fundamentalist insurgency, the WCPI viewed the Red Army as just as reactionary as the mujahedin holy warriors. They joined most of the left in refusing to support the Soviet intervention. This was justified by the WCPI’s false claim that the Soviet Union became “state capitalist” by the mid 1920s.
We Trotskyists unconditionally defended the Soviet degenerated workers state against internal counterrevolution and imperialist attack, while calling for proletarian political revolution to oust the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy. We said “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” and called for extending the social gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan peoples. While warning that the Kremlin bureaucracy was capable of selling out to the imperialists, we pointed out that the Red Army intervention was objectively in defense of the Soviet Union and a blow against the Islamic fundamentalists who threatened to return women to virtual slavery. The Kremlin’s withdrawal from Afghanistan led to the victory of the mujahedin, with today’s hideous consequences for Afghan women, and gave a giant impulse to the forces of capitalist restoration that triumphed in the Soviet Union.
Iran Needs Workers Revolution!
Iran today is a cauldron of contradictions and deepening tensions waiting to erupt. A new generation has grown up—as much as 70 percent of the population is under 30 years of age—that did not experience the 1979 “Islamic revolution” or the savage war with Iraq in the 1980s. These largely well-educated young people, their vision broadened by access to the Internet and other media, are smothered by the medieval strictures imposed by the clerical regime. Meanwhile, Iran remains a prison house of peoples in which Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis and others oppressed by the Persian-chauvinist regime constitute nearly half the population.
The current protests have taken place in the midst of a severe economic downturn, made worse by the world financial crisis. Overwhelmingly dependent on oil, Iran’s foreign exchange receipts plummeted as the price of oil fell from a high of about $140 a barrel to around $70 today. At the same time, the inflation rate is about 24 percent and official unemployment stands at 17 percent. More than 35 percent of the population under the age of 30 is experiencing long-term unemployment.
The only road to genuine social and economic modernization, to liberating Iran from imperialist subjugation, to freeing Iranian women from enslavement, to winning the right of national self-determination for the Kurds and the myriad other oppressed nationalities, lies in the smashing of capitalist class rule in Iran. The Iranian masses urgently need a working-class revolutionary party, capable of leading the struggle against the reactionary clerical regime. To forge such a party, leftist militants in Iran must understand the roots of the betrayals by those misleaders who in 1979 helped prepare a historic defeat by embracing the forces of Islamic reaction as a “progressive” alternative to the Shah.