As news comes in that the regime has declared the elections valid, the deepening economic problems, the crumbling base and the splits in the elite on the one hand, and the growing unity among workers’ organisations (and other joint activities with women, students and national minorities) and the mass disenchantment of the great majority of the population on the other, are preparing the ground for another, and even bigger movement in the near future.
The ‘President’ of the ‘Republic’
But why are so many members of the regime’s elite prepared to go through this process? Why did the ‘reformists’ subject themselves to this stage-managed charade? Is it because the office of ‘President’ is a really powerful one?
Mohammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran from 1997 to 2005. Photo by Remy Steinegger.The short answer to this is ‘No’! In March 2001, towards the end of his first term as ‘President’, Mohammad Khatami admitted that he was “powerless” and could not help the ‘reformist’ publications that had been banned by the regime’s courts. He was also “powerless” in intervening to release the jailed members of the Iran Freedom Movement and the Religious-Nationalist Alliance.
This statement represents a damning indictment of the office of ‘President’ – as it was made after the ‘reformists’ became the majority in ‘parliament’! If the ‘President’ of the ‘Republic’ was “powerless” to defend newspapers and pro-reform organisations that supported him then what is he good for? And where does the real power lie?
Under the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran the Leader is more powerful than the ‘president’. The ‘president’ is more like a chief executive officer of a company. He can choose the cabinet ministers (subject to parliamentary approval), ambassadors, provincial governors and so on.
The Leader, however, once he has been elected by the Assembly Experts, has the authority not only to “supervise” and “guide” the republic, but also to “determine the interests of Islam”. He appoints the commanders of the armed forces (inc. pasdaran), the members of national security councils dealing with defence and foreign affairs, the director of the national radio and television network, the heads of the major religious foundations, and the prayer leaders in city mosques.
He also appoints the chief judge, the chief prosecutor, special tribunals and, with the help of the chief judge, the 12 jurists of the Guardian Council. The Guardian Council also sets examinations for candidates to the Assembly of Religious Experts. (Reputable theologians have been known to fail.) This assembly not only elects the Supreme Leader but can also dismiss him on grounds of ill-health or incompetence.
The two tendencies of the bourgeoisie
Right from the beginning this regime has had two broad tendencies relating to their economic policy. One tendency has been aiming to normalise capitalist relations of production in Iran and to restore relations with the imperialist countries. The other tendency has been in favour of state ownership, trade barriers and so on, and has represented the interests of the coalition of bourgeois (and some petty-bourgeois) forces that crushed the 1978-79 mass movement. Over the years the names of these factions, and their representatives, have changed many times. For example, Rafsanjani was once a very ‘radical’ figure, but has for a long time been in favour of privatisation, foreign trade and investment, cutting subsidies and so on.
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran from 1989 to 1997. Photo by Mesgary.Since these tendencies are rooted in the contradictory formation that replaced the monarchist-military regime of the Shah, the friction between them will continue until there is a modern and centralised capitalist state in Iran. While these two tendencies have been struggling against each other, however, the economic situation has been deteriorating. None of the economic and social problems that led to the 1979 revolution have been resolved. In fact, they have all become exacerbated. For example, every year around 1 million youths enter the job market. According to Mohammad Khazai, a Deputy Minister of Economy and Finance under Khatami, every year from 2006-2010, $20 billion in investment will be needed to provide all the necessary jobs!
Considering mounting problems like, inflation, and all other measures of economic and social depravation, including the widespread problem of unpaid wages, the only thing that has stopped another deep economic crisis has been the vast revenues from the oil and gas industry.
Even here, however, the problems are mounting. The National Iranian Oil Company estimates that over the 2006-2015 period $70 billion is needed to modernise the dilapidated infrastructure and the regime is looking towards foreign oil companies and international capital markets to provide approximately three-quarters of those massive investments. Normalising trade relations and attracting foreign investment are the key initiatives that will help keep the economy from collapsing in the next few years. This is the reason behind the regime’s overtures towards the imperialist countries – including the United States.
Factional differences now
The reason that fraud on this scale took place, and that they tried to announce and approve it quickly, is that Khamenei and the fundamentalist faction (including Ahmadinejad), think that the best way to get more concessions from US imperialism is to use the same tactics as during the past four years. The way they see it is that during Khatami’s ‘presidency’, as part of negotiations with the EU, uranium enrichment was suspended in 2004-05 for over 18 months. The US, under George W. Bush, gave them almost nothing in return.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader of Iran. Photo by Foundation of Holy Defence Values, Archives and Publications.Despite all the help the regime had provided the Americans in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and subsequently in their occupation, they were given minor concessions: e.g., allowing the purchase of spare parts for civilian aircraft and so on.
o the fundamentalist faction took over (through another rigged ‘election’) and instead of Khatami’s “the dialogue of civilisations” and so on the world was subjected to Ahmadinejad’s outrageous remarks on the Holocaust, a resumption of uranium enrichment, more centrifuges installed (reaching 7000) and an insistence on continuing with the programme until they had mastery of the full nuclear cycle (claimed to have been achieved in April 2009). There were also missile tests, big military exercises and the seizure of British sailors. The support for the Palestinians also became much louder and arms shipments and other types of support for groups sympathetic to the regime in the region were stepped up.
This change in tactics, as far as the regime geo-strategic interests are concerned, paid off (although it ruined the economy!). Playing tough is thought to have worked even when the neo-conservatives were in power in Washington. As the ongoing military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has weakened US imperialism, the IRI wants to maximise its advantage against it. Given imperialism’s weaker position the fundamentalists are hoping for more concessions when they get to the negotiating table.
Having lost out four years ago, the only hope the ‘reformist’ had of overcoming the vote rigging was to have a high turnout. So they welcomed the whole fanfare. They believed that this was their chance to prevail and then advance their way of defending the Islamic system’s long-term interests through less confrontational methods.
But the sheer scale of the fraud took them aback! And when they protested hundreds of them, including many leaders of ‘reformist’ organisations, such as the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF, their main party), were arrested. These included Mohammad-Reza Khatami, one of central leaders of the IIPF and Mohammad Khatami’s brother; Mostafa Tajzadeh, Deputy Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister under Khatami; Behzad Nabavi, a leader of the Mojahedin Organisation of the Islamic Revolution and former Minister of Heavy Industries under Mousavi; and many others. Never had so many former ministers and regime insiders been arrested. In addition their newspapers, websites and blogs were suppressed.
This made some of the ‘reformists’ say that there had been a coup! Yet, even after this claim, Mousavi was still telling people to stay calm and not to harm anyone! Strangely the ‘new rulers’ released Khatami’s brother so that he could be present at the rally on June 15, to stand near Mousavi! It is obvious that this was done because it served the interests of the whole regime to quell the mass discontent and anger. This was the rally that Mousavi had earlier cancelled but was forced to attend by the people.
Then once that immediate crisis was over the elite went back to its power struggle and escalated it. Faezeh Hashemi (Rafsanjani’s daughter) and four other members of Rafsanjani’s family were arrested to put pressure on him. Rafsanjani is said to be involved, with others like Hassan Rowhani (a former member of the Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator), in persuading top clerics in Qom to come out against Khamenei (and his selected man, Ahmadinejad). So far these clerics have not endorsed Ahmadinejad’s ‘victory’.
It is also important to note how the fundamentalists have treated members of the regime’s own weaker faction, including some former ministers and high officials of the regime. They have been arrested in the middle of the night without any warrant or identification of the detaining officers, had their house searched, their family harassed and then were not heard of for a number of days. Even though the ex-ministers’ treatment in jail will be much more mild, their illegal arrests have highlighted the every day repressive methods that confront workers, women, students, teachers, journalists, writers and artists, national minorities, human rights and civil activists (and anyone else who might want to question any aspect of social life under this regime and want to improve it).
The fundamentalists wanted to avoid a second round as it would have harder to rig. A head-to-head contest would have also generated more passions, a bigger debate about the future direction of the regime, and led to further divisions. The top fundamentalist faction was not in any way interested in giving the other faction a fair chance and wanted to continue with the same policies in just the same confrontational way (and to amass its own fortunes at the expense of the other faction).
No religious zeal
Over the past 30 years the IRI’s hezbollahi base has made many sacrifices. From losing hundreds of thousands of their sons in the war with Iraq; continuous hardship through years of sanctions, disastrous economic policies and endemic corruption at all levels of government; many mobilisations against ‘enemies’; and further marginalisation and poverty because of the neo-liberal policies like privatisation, the cutting of subsidies, higher taxation and so on, the social layers that were the shock troops of the Islamic counter-revolution have become demoralised and disillusioned with the regime. The crumbling of this crucial social base has had an important effect on the evolution of the regime.
The erosion in support within its own social base is the reason for the growing professionalisation of the repressive apparatus compared to the 1980s and early 1990s. The creation of uniformed, permanent and paid forces, such as riot police units and a special force made up of women for beating woman demonstrators (rather than the fundamentalist volunteers of the Zeynab sisters), the increasing use of plain-clothes officers, and so on, are clear signs of the diminishing religious and ‘revolutionary’ zeal of the regime’s base.
The paramount repressive force is that of the pasdaran, which as the regime’s dependence on professional and paid thugs has grown, have become a bigger social and economic force. As Mohsen Sazegara, one of the founders of the pasdaran, has said: “I don’t know of any other organisation in any country like the Revolutionary Guards. It’s something like … a business complex, and the mafia.”
The engineering firm Khatam al-Anbia is a key pasdaran affiliate which has been awarded more than 750 contracts in various construction, infrastructure, oil, and gas projects. The oil ministry has signed a number of no-bid contracts with Khatam al-Anbia worth billions of dollars – including a $1.3 billion one for building a 900-km gas pipeline.
Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and his wife, Empress Farah, in 1967The influence of the pasdaran, also stretches beyond Iran’s borders. Bonyad-e mostazafan (Foundation of the Dispossessed), the largest of foundations in Iran that was created by seizing a part of the Shah’s assets, is indirectly influenced by the pasdaran. In 2004 one of its subsidiary companies began work on a $30 million contract to build a 37-km road into the Hajar mountains in the United Arab Emirates.
Mehdi Karroubi, while ‘speaker of parliament’, indirectly accused the pasdaran of operating 60 illegal jetties in the country without government supervision. Another MP has stated that black-market activities of the pasdaran may be worth as much as $12 billion a year!
The pasdaran are also said to be involved in the “sugar mafia”. In September 2007 the workers of Haft Tapeh said that a “sugar mafia2 was operating in the country and had influenced the government into adopting a cut in customs duty on imported sugar from 140% to 4%, pushing many sugar producing companies into bankruptcy!
The growth of the economic muscle of the pasdaran is an effect as well as a cause of the disaffection of the hezbollahi base (although these are not mutually exclusive groups). Their rise has also affected the bazaar, the other pillar of the Islamic movement that was involved in defeating the workers’ and mass movements that overthrew the Shah. In 1978-79 the power and money of the bazaar, the traditional merchants, was an important source for financing the mollahs’ activities.
Although there have been concessions to the traditional and smaller bourgeoisie and the bazaar merchants – e.g., excluding workshops with ten (or less) workers from the very limited protection of the Labour Code – the neo-liberal economic policies being followed, and the growing economic might of the pasdaran, will marginalise them further.
They have seen how 30 years after the Shah the sons and relatives of the top mollahs have all become millionaires while their children are struggling to survive. The introduction of VAT in October 2008 was a step too far. The bazaar’s response, a shutdown in several cities, was quick and it made the regime scrap the new tax.
As their own support among the bazaari, hezbollahi and so on has fallen sharply, the theocratic-military regime has had to rely more on pasdaran-basiji elements. They cannot mobilise the faithful to smash the opposition (whether workers, students, women etc) like before. Ahmadinejad, a former commander, has close connections with the pasdaran and has appointed many basij leaders to various government posts. For its survival the regime has to give these elements more political power and more economic opportunities for enriching themselves. Today the old time ‘revolutionaries’ of the Khomeini era are not as useful to the regime as these thugs.
For most of the past four years the regime has benefited from very high oil revenues. This period even included the record $127 a barrel reached in July 2008. Yet, despite $81.764 billion export earning from oil in 2007 and $77.929 billion in 2008 (estimate), the masses, particularly the workers, are feeling the effects of economic hardship more than ever.
For many years Iranian workers have had to work two shifts or take on second and even third jobs to make ends meet. Even those who have jobs are struggling because of unpaid wages – mostly owed by the state!
The official unemployment rate is said to be 15% (with independent economists putting it much higher). Youth unemployment is over 27% in urban areas and 20% in the villages.
The official inflation rate is 26%, but workers find every day that all essentials are constantly rising in price. The official minimum wage is 1,830,000 rials (€130). Yet even Abbas Vatanpoor, the Secretary of the Co-ordination Council of Employers, the Iranian bosses’ organisation (equivalent to the Confederation of British Industry or Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales), had to admit that this is about 219% less than the minimum set during a meeting in January.
In addition, the minimum wage, no matter what its level, only applies to workers covered by the Labour Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Labour Code, which the regime keeps revising because it is thought to be too favourable towards workers (!), now specifies that workshops with less than 11 workers are exempt from its provisions. This meant that a majority of workers, including carpet weavers and others in small and rural workshops, many of whom are women, are totally at the mercy of their bosses.
The government, after much delay, set the poverty line for the current Iranian year at 8,500,000 rials (€606), a 10% increase on last year’s figure. Many sources, including some MPs, put more than 90% of population at below the poverty line! The list of economic woes is almost endless.
With oil representing around 84% of the regime’s export earnings, the economic outlook over the next two or three years will be even more bleak. With most of the imperialist and advanced capitalist countries in recession, and the rate of growth in industrialising countries like India, China and Brazil slowing, the demand for energy will keep falling, and with it, the general downward trend of oil and gas prices will squeeze the earnings of the regime.
What is the position of revolutionaries?
It is clear that all those who oppose this particular regime, even bourgeois oppositionists like the monarchists and various other nationalist and Islamic organisations, are not allowed to contest any ‘elections’ in the Islamic Republic. Ever since the crushing of all oppositionists in 1981 everyone has been calling for boycotts of the regime’s totally undemocratic, unfair and shackled ‘elections’.
Iranian Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency, like all other left-wing and other groups, has consistently called for boycotts of the regime’s ‘elections’. When the constitution bars all those who question the existence of the regime, when even the regime’s own supporters are not freely allowed to publicise their programme, given equal treatment and allowed to choose their own candidates, then there is nothing here that can be called an election.
or a number of years we have called for an active boycott of ‘elections’. Four years ago our 2005 proposed resolution concluded:
“The active boycott policy, beyond the currently possible and specific steps, is the policy of presenting an alternative to the workers and all exploited and oppressed masses instead of the sham and baseless ‘election’ of the capitalist government. This policy is not posed merely on the basis of what is possible today, rather than as a step towards going beyond this regime and the capitalist state in its entirety, through raising the consciousness of a larger section of the masses. On this basis the vanguards [of each movement] should attempt:
In the few places where the atmosphere for having genuine gatherings, discussions and debates among the masses exists, whether among workers in factories, students in universities, national minorities in their areas, this method and programme should be made available to them in practice as the alternative of genuine democracy.
Where for security or technical reasons such steps are not possible, attempts should be made, through personal and circle contacts and distributing clandestine tracts, to prepare the basis for broader action among other circles and wider ranks of workers and exploited and oppressed masses.We hope that this step can help change the balance of class forces so that the path towards more effective activities is easier in the future.”
Most importantly, this time a similar policy was adopted by some of the most active groups of workers in Iran. In May the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers’ Trade Union issued a statement which included the following: “Today, for workers and their families, encouragement about participation in the election is one of the most meaningless of existing debates, because during the past three decades the workers have experienced all the presidents from the time of the [Iran-Iraq] war and the [post-war] reconstruction and reform, and also the affection-cultivating president.” The workers of Iran Khodro, the vehicle manufacturer, who in May won a strike for payment of unpaid wages and permanent contracts, also said that: “We will only take part in elections that defend workers’ interests.”
These are not isolated groups of workers. They are among the most combative sections of the working class and have good connections with other labour organisations. They co-operated with most of the important ones to organise the May Day rally. Their position will therefore be widely known among other workers.
These developments within some of the most militant sections of the working class show that this was the correct policy on this year’s ‘presidential election’ as well. Once the mass movement had developed, however, the correct policy was to support the movement despite its reactionary leadership. Unfortunately a number of ‘left-wing’ sects have condemned the whole movement just because it has not adopted their proposed slogans and demands. This method can only drive the masses away from the left.
The workers’ movement
The most important internal factor over the past four years has been the development of the workers’ movement. This regime brought the glorious movement of 1978-79, which included the setting up of workers’ councils that controlled production (and in some cases even distribution), to its knees. But since the end of the Iran-Iraq war the movement has been advancing slowly.
Although during the past few years there have certainly been many setbacks and defeats, we have also seen important victories and gains. The strikes and struggles of the Vahed bus drivers, Iran Khodro, the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane workers, are just three examples of the continuous struggle of the working class for trade union rights, better pay and conditions. The May Day ceremony planned eight weeks ago, even though it was broken up and over 150 arrested (with a number of detainees still in Evin prison), for the first time, brought together nine labour organisations (and a women’s group). The best tactic for advancing the workers’ movement is forming a united front – regardless of political differences. The workers need to act as a truly united class against the bosses and their government. They need to counter the sectarians who want to split the movement according to political and ideological positions.
When faced with such ‘elections’ the vanguard of the workers needed to combine a boycott of this process with activities that raised the consciousness of the mass of workers. Specific demands that link the day-to-day struggles to the final aim of overthrowing this regime and the whole of the bourgeois state need to be developed and tested in action. This policy is also valid for the youth and students, women and national minorities.
Through such interventions the vanguards of each movement will not only radicalise each movement and shift the balance of forces against the bourgeoisie but will lay the foundations for linking the most militant, disciplined and conscious elements of the movements of all exploited and oppressed layers in a revolutionary working class party.
The workers’ and the mass movement
Although Iran is ripe for a revolution, meeting many of the criteria for a revolutionary situation, what we have not really seen is the workers intervening in society as a class. As individuals, or even as groups, the workers have taken part in the protests. But they have not intervened as an organised class-based bloc, with their own banners, slogans, demands, programme and so on. More importantly, they have not taken strike action, occupied factories and so on. Such measure can really add to the pressure on the regime.
Thousands of people demonstrating outside of a Mosque in Tehran, June 28, 2009. Photo by Hamed Saber.The working class has not even reached the stage of intervening as a class to defend its own rights against the capitalist class. Not even on May Day. So it is some way from intervening in society as the class that leads all the exploited and oppressed classes. Unless something that triggers this happens soon then these protest will unfortunately just fade away.
After several days’ delay, some e developments took place. Two shifts at the Iran Khodro vehicle manufacturing plant went on strike for half an hour and the Vahed bus drivers issued a statement defending the mass movement. But, so far, Iran Khodro’s workers have not managed to co-ordinate their action with workers in other industries, and the Vahed bus drivers have not managed to intervene on the basis of their statements.
regime’s infighting has provided the masses with a brief time to become bolder and more radical. But time is very limited. The key to the current situation in the workers’ movement, and society as a whole, is that the workers have to take some significant action – like a series of strikes – before the regime’s factions settle their differences. Once the regime has resolved its problems then it will clamp down even harder on all protesters. It might be a mter of just a week or so at most.
When in 1990 a small group of Iranian revolutionary Marxists began publishing a small journal with the aim of building a Leninist party in Iran they said that the burning embers of the revolution were just under the ashes. All that was needed was to blow away the ashes. The events of the past two weeks have certainly blown away most of the ashes of the past 28 years and have fanned the flames of revolution.
The potential for a pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situation developing in Iran were never in doubt – even at the height of the repression during the Iran-Iraq war. But unless the working class intervenes in a united and organised way now, i.e., within the next few days, then the opportunity for revitalising the mass movement that has been beaten into submission will be lost. The regime may thus be able to limp on for months and possibly a few more years.
he deepening economic problems, the crumbling base and the s in the elite on the one hand, and the growing unity among workers’ organisations (and other joint activities with women, students and national minorities) and the mass disenchantment of the great majority of population on the other, mean that there will be ote- and bigge- movement in thear future. We must therefore re-double our efforts in building a revolutionary alternative to the ‘reformists’ and er urgeois and petty-bourgeois parties and their social programmes.
Our tasks are the same as those of two or three decades ago, but we n face a more favourable situation as workers like the Iran Khodro vehicle car manufacturer, who published Maziar Razi’s open letter torkers on their blog, have become very open towards revolutionary Marxism.ld have no doubts that once the workers have a united leadershimed with a revolutionary socialist programme, then they can lead all the exploited and oppressed layers to victory. June 009)
(See also: Clumsy fraud provokes mass demonstrations and forces a recount – Part One)