This post is a segment of essays by Alan Woods called The Crisis of Capitalism And The Tasks of Marxist. This is the section on Iran
By Alan Woods
Monday September 28, 2009
What happened in Iran took most people by surprise. It appeared to fall like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. But sudden and sharp changes of this sort are implicit in the situation. As a matter of fact these events were predicted in advance by this International, not now, but ten years ago, at the time of the first movement of the students.
At that time I wrote an article called The First Shots of the Iranian Revolution. And now we see the second chapter. Comrades, what a marvellous movement this was! It was an inspiration. After thirty years of the most savage and brutal dictatorship, a monstrous regime, based on a combination of extreme reaction and religious fanaticism, using extreme repression, murder, kidnapping, torture, we saw the explosive entry of the masses on the scene of history.
This is the final answer to all the cowards and sceptics, the cynics, the ex-Marxists, the ex-communists, and all the others who questioned the possibility of revolutionary movements in the present epoch. Despite all the terrible repression there were one million people on the streets of Tehran, maybe two million. It was an astounding revolutionary movement. And yet you have so-called left wingers, so-called Marxists, like James Petras, who have just made a very small error: they’re not capable of seeing the difference between revolution and counterrevolution.
Lenin explained the four conditions for a revolution. We’ve mentioned them before but we’ll mention them again. The first condition is a split at the top, a split in the ruling class: that the ruling class will not be able to rule with the methods they’ve used in the past. For 30 years the people of Iran have languished under this vicious rule, which is oppressive down to the smallest detail of people’s lives. The Mullahs try to control how people think, how people live, what people do, what people wear. Iran is a very young country, and it’s a very big country and 70% of the population are under thirty years of age, they have never known any other regime than this. And after thirty years, the masses are fed up with the Mullahs.
The Ayatollah Khomeini presented the image of Mr. Clean, as against the ghastly corruption of the Shah and his pro-imperialist gang. By the way, what stinking, disgusting, hypocrites the so-called democrats of the West are. In 1953, when there was a bourgeois democratic government, the only time in the history of Iran when there was such a government, led by a liberal called Mosaddeq, these imperialist gangsters wanted to take control of the oil wealth of the country. The British, the Americans, the CIA overthrew Mosaddeq and imposed a brutal dictatorship of the Shah, which was one of the bloodiest dictatorships known in the whole of the 20th century.
The regime of the Shah was disgustingly corrupt. People in this oil rich country were hungry, and the Shah engaged in public spectacles of the most obscene luxury. The Shah had a huge repressive apparatus, one of the biggest armies of the world, the secret police was known as the Savak, which had control over every aspect of life, they were very efficient, like the Gestapo. They had very pleasant little customs like roasting people to death with an electric fire. That was the regime that was put into power by the British and the Americans and supported until the end by the British and the Americans.
That ended in a revolution in 1979, in which the Iranian workers played a key role. They confronted the repressive apparatus in the streets. They armed themselves, because the soldiers deserted en masse, handing their weapons over to the people. It is not generally know that the Iranian workers set up soviets, known as the shoras. Power was within the reach of the working class. Unfortunately the Iranian Communist Party didn’t want to take power. They helped the gangster Khomeini to take power. And Khomeini said, thank you very much and illegalized the Communists and put them in jail.
The price paid by the Iranian people was this monstrous, fundamentalist dictatorship for thirty years. But now this regime is finished. The only thing that maintains it is fear, and as you see the fear is disappearing. Now there’s always a comical side to politics, politics has got an amusing side. And you see this here; it’s quite amusing to see what happened. Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, was so confident that he allowed a relatively free election campaign. He was confident because he was going to rig the elections. The top Mullahs vetted all the candidates, and they eliminated 400 candidates, and since the four candidates who were left were all men of the regime, there was not a problem. Or so it appeared…
But then a strange thing occurred. Hegel said, and Lenin often repeated it, necessity expresses itself through accident. This Mousavi was an accidental figure; he was part of the regime. He was the prime minister during the war with Iraq. But then they had some debates on television and the question of the economy was raised, and this is at the basis of the situation of Iran, as oil prices have fallen. So there was a lot of discontent and a lot of interest in these debates.
By the way, it is true that Ahmadinejad did give some reforms. He could afford it, as he had the money from the oil. He gave subsidies, particularly to the poor peasants in the villages, so he has a certain support among these sections. But that support is increasingly being eroded, the conditions of the masses are getting worse and there has been a wave of strikes in Iran. Therefore, a strange thing happened in this election campaign. In the past people were not interested in the elections, mostly they didn’t bother to vote. But in these elections there were huge rallies in Tehran. This fact already indicated a change in the mood of the masses.
Although Mousavi didn’t represent any real opposition, he was seen by the masses as the opposition candidate and therefore it was seen as an opportunity to give the regime a kick. Most observers were convinced that Mousavi was going to win the election. It is impossible to say what the figures were, we will never know, but here the regime made a mistake. Ahmadinejad immediately came on television and announced he’d won by a huge majority. Even in an advanced capitalist country it takes some time before the final results are announced. Iran is a very big country with quite a primitive infrastructure in the rural areas. So how could he make this announcement immediately?
If he had said, “I won by a small difference” maybe some people would have believed it. But instead, they announced a huge victory, and people didn’t believe it. There was an immediate reaction. People came on the streets: students (it was mainly students in the beginning), also middle class people, and teachers – people who in the past would have supported the regime. The women played a huge role, since the women are some of the main victims of this regime.
Let’s remind ourselves of the conditions Lenin put forth, the four conditions for revolution:
The regime is split; there is a crisis in the regime.
The middle class is wavering between the revolutionary forces and the ruling class.
The working class is ready to fight and make the greatest sacrifices.
The existence of a revolutionary party and leadership.
The regime in Iran is split from top to bottom. This always happens at the beginning of any revolution all throughout history. It happened in France in 1789 and in Russia in February 1917. When a regime enters into an impasse, it is reflected in two factions at the top. One faction says we must reform from the top to prevent a revolution from below. And the other faction says no, if we start reforming from the top there’ll be a revolution from below, keep things as they are. And both of them are right.
As for the second point, the middle class was not wavering, but actually took the side of the revolution. There was some participation of the workers, like the Teheran bus drivers. There was even talk of a general strike, but this failed to materialize, precisely because of the absence of the last factor: a revolutionary party and leadership.
These were the biggest movements of the masses since 1979. They took the regime by surprise. They took Mousavi by surprise. They took the Americans by surprise. The argument that the CIA is responsible for this movement is a monstrous invention. Mousavi did everything in his power to block this movement. Every day he would say: “don’t go on the streets, you’re going to be killed, I want to save your life.” Every day he said this and every day more people came onto the streets. Not just students and middle class people.
The Economist described the people that were on these demonstrations: there was a mixture, students, middle class people, women, a lot of women, but also poor people from the poor districts of Tehran, women dressed in the head covering and poor people, and even mullahs. This was a colossal movement. It’s the kind of movement you’d expect at the beginning of every genuine revolution which stirs up society to the depths. The authorities tried repression; people were beaten up by the Basiji. They were beaten up, imprisoned, and some people were killed. But nothing could stop it. At one point, there were even indications that cracks were opening up within the police.
These demonstrators were extraordinary because nobody organized them. I suppose if ever there was an argument for anarchism, this would be it. It was spontaneous, by word of mouth. The youth used mobile phones and all the other modern technology which is now available.
The regime tried to block the internet and block mobile phone transmission, and still they found ways around it. How do you stop a movement when there’s no leadership, there’s no one to arrest? That’s why they couldn’t stop this movement. The anarchists are doubtless delighted by all this. But we must point out to the anarchists that while the lack of leadership was, in one sense, a strong point, it was also a weak point.
In the end the movement failed in its objectives. We must ask why. There were two fatal weaknesses in this movement. In the first place, it was precisely the weakness of spontaneity. There was no leadership, no plan, and no strategy. It is impossible to keep masses of people on the streets without such a plan. Eventually, the movement will dissipate, just as steam dissipates in the air unless it is concentrated in a piston-box.
Above all there was no participation by the organized workers. That was the second and decisive weakness. This again shows the limitations of the workers’ leaders in Iran. There have been many strikes in Iran in the last period, but in the decisive moment, where was the leadership? Unfortunately, the so-called workers’ vanguard failed to support the movement and did not call on the workers to join it.
I have the impression that these so-called vanguard workers are either ex-Stalinists, or demoralized elements of the older generation who are under the influence of Stalinist ideas. Whatever they are, they behaved very badly. There’s a marvellous article by Trotsky written in 1930, which has got a direct reference to what is happening in Iran. It is called The Spanish Revolution and the Tasks of the Communists. At that time there were big student demonstrations, and Trotsky insisted that the Spanish workers and the Spanish Communists must support these demonstrations and put forth revolutionary democratic demands.
Unfortunately in Iran the workers’ leaders boycotted the election and boycotted this movement, which is a very bad way to behave. An indefinite general strike would have finished this regime, especially if it was accompanied by the setting up of soviets, or shoras, to use the Farsi word. The idea of a general strike was floating in the air, and even Mousavi made some vague references to it. All that was required was to name a day, and that would have been enough. But this demand never came forward.
We pointed out in the articles on the website, that you cannot have a situation where you’re calling people out on the streets saying, demonstrate, demonstrate, demonstrate, without any perspective. People are going out on the streets every day and getting their heads cracked, and there’s no perspective. And therefore what happened was inevitable. I said in my first article: if it carries on like this it will go down. And that is what happened.
On the surface it seems that the regime has regained control but that is not the case. Nothing is solved and the splits in the regime now are wide open. There have been splits on the left (if you can call the reformists the left).and splits on the right also. Particularly interesting is the conduct of Rafsanjani, who is one of the main gangsters in the regime - a very rich gangster, and a very clever gangster. Now he has gone over to the opposition.
Rafsanjani held a Friday prayer meeting about ten days ago, a Friday prayer meeting in one of the main Mosques in Tehran. This is not a new thing; the leaders do this quite often. Ahmadinejad did it quite recently. But at the most in a big rally (for that is what it is), you woud get no more than 50,000 people. How many went to this prayer meeting with Rafsanjani? One million people! Now it may be that one million people suddenly developed a burning interest in praying to Allah. It’s possible, but I don’t think so. This was a mass political demonstration. And this same gangster, this Rafsanjani, gave a very militant speech in the Mosque.
I don’t think he said a lot about Allah, what he did say was to call for democracy, he said that the elections were rigged, he said it was impermissible to use violence against the people of Iran and he called for the release of everyone who had been arrested. This is astonishing. And even more interestingly he was supported by leading clerics from the city of Qom which is the main religious centre in Iran. I think at least four or five Grand Ayatollahs came out in support of Rafsanjani. This means there is an open split and it seems Khamenei is losing control.
Khamenei is the Supreme Leader, not only of the religious questions, he’s the Supreme Leader of the state, he controls the army, the police, the judiciary, and he’s been publicly challenged by Rafsanjani. Even more significant, the night before that meeting, on Thursday night, 24 top army officers were arrested. Two of them were generals. Why were they arrested? They went to this prayer meeting with their uniforms, and this was a serious act of rebellion.
Therefore, all the conditions Lenin put forth for a revolution are present in Iran except one, or to be more accurate, one and a half, because the proletariat, again through the fault of the leadership, has not played the leading role that it should play. Lenin wrote in 1905 that in a situation like that, the proletariat must put itself at the head of the nation. The proletariat and its Party must fight for the most advanced revolutionary democratic demands, which can appeal not just to the workers but to the middle class, the students, the youth, and the women.
These democratic demands must be summed up with one slogan, for a nationwide general strike and soviets (shoras). If they did that, this regime would be finished. Now just think what that means. Just imagine the effect of a revolution in Iran. Imagine the effect it would have on all the countries in that area, regimes like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, they would fall, one after the other. Why do you think the imperialists have been so quiet around this business in Iran?
You ask me what form the new government would take. I answer: if there was a Bolshevik Party (even a party of 8000, as the Bolsheviks were in February 1917), you’d be talking about a classical proletarian revolution in Iran. But there is no such party. Therefore it’s almost certain that the Iranian revolution will have to pass through a phase of a bourgeois parliamentary regime of some sort, as happened in Spain after 1931. But under conditions of economic crisis, that will not be a recipe for peace any more than it was in 1931 Spain.
The overthrow of the regime has only been postponed till the next crisis, which may be in six months, twelve months or a couple of years. But it is inevitable. And it will open up a very stormy period in Iran. We can’t be precise about the nature of the regime that will emerge. But I will tell you what it will not be: there cannot be anther fundamentalist Islamic regime in Iran, not after the last 30 years. That’s finished. And therefore the Iranian revolution, for the first time, will cut across all this madness of fundamentalism that exists in the Middle East.