On the Upheaval in Iran

June 19, 2009

The blatant theft of the June elections has touched off the biggest crisis for the Islamic Republic of Iran in over two decades. Large sectors of the Iranian people have come into the streets to protest, especially youth, women, and intellectuals. Already, the population is beginning to lose its fear, at least in major cities like Isfahan, Tabriz, and Shiraz, and especially Tehran, where protestors have repeatedly confronted the fundamentalist Basiji militia, in some cases driving them off the streets.

Since the 2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency, the regime has tightened repression, clamping down on women, youth, and trade unions, while at the same time engaging in flights of demagoguery in the form of right-wing populism. Ahmadinejad, the fraudulent President, taunted the opposition at his large victory rally on June 14. He called them “dirt,” ridiculed their charges of fraud, threatened them with arrest, and in a blatant example of his reactionary form of anti-imperialism, stated that in Iran, “everything is grounded in moral values,” but in the West, “thieves, homosexuals and other impure people are included in the electorate in order to gain a few votes” (Le Monde, 6/14/09).

The next day, Ahmadinejad got his answer, as over one million protestors filled Tehran’s Azadi Square, far surpassing the pro-regime rally. Sporting green, the color of the opposition, they assembled despite a decree deeming their rally illegal. In fact, the regular police allowed the rally to proceed, with many even seeming to express sympathy with the demonstrators. The Basiji struck back, however, killing 7 demonstrators who had massed outside one of their headquarters. That morning plainclothes security officers also attacked a dormitory at Tehran University, killing 5 students. (Students were also killed in Shiraz.) Hundreds of thousands of protestors have been coming onto the streets every day since then.

While earlier protests as in 1999 were largely confined to student youth, this one is far broader. Its massive character is based in part on the fact that the clerical-military oligarchy that has run Iran since 1979 is itself divided as never before. On the one side are the most reactionary fundamentalists like Ahmadinejad, as well as those who hold the real power, Supreme Religious Leader Ali Khamenei, hardcore elements of the repressive apparatus (Revolutionary Guards and the “volunteer” Basiji militia), and the judiciary. On the other side are ranged several important Islamic Reformist and pragmatic conservative figures, from Moussavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, to the immensely popular former President Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005), to the more conservative and extremely powerful Hashemi Rafsanjani, and some prominent clerics, most notably Grand Ayatollah Hussein Montazeri. (It should be noted that almost all of these figures, including Moussavi, were uncritical supporters of Khomeini and participants in the bloody repression of secular leftists and feminists during the 1980s.)

During the last weeks of the campaign, Moussavi spoke out against the repression of the youth, against polygamy, and in favor of a whole series of gender reforms as well as the rights of ethnic minorities. Rahnavard, who received vicious attacks from Ahmadinejad, went further, calling not only for gender reforms but also for the release of all political prisoners. As they began to articulate these demands, their crowds grew far larger and more boisterous, putting a scare into the conservative establishment, which feared the strengthening of truly grassroots efforts like the Million Signatures Campaign for women’s rights. The presence of large numbers of women in the anti regime demonstrations,as well as the emphatic calls for liberation of women in statements of opposition groups, show that the rebellion is fueled by a striving for new human relations with gender relations as the flashpoint of the struggle.

While the Reformists want to preserve the Islamic Republic, the logic of events may be moving in a different direction, or at least toward a much more thorough-going set of reforms than was on the agenda even a week ago.

A lot will depend on whether the working classes – whose legitimate struggles to form independent trade unions have met with severe repression, and who are also experiencing starvation wages, nonpayment of wages, and unemployment -- come out in greater numbers. In this regard, it should be noted that so far, the movement against the fraudulent election has not addressed the specific concerns of the working class. However, workers at the country’s largest automobile plant, Iran Khodro, a site of some of these recent labor struggles, announced on June 18 that they were launching a strike in “solidarity with the people’s movement,” also characterizing the election returns as “an insult to the intelligence of people and denial of their vote.”

A lot will also depend upon whether further cracks appear inside the regime itself.

But there is the rub. For the movement’s rootedness in the clerical opposition also runs the danger of some type of rotten compromise with the regime, losing the best chance in a generation for a real uprooting.

One encouraging sign was a set of seven demands reportedly circulated at the mass rally of June 15: “1. Dismissal of Khamenei as an unjust leader. 2. Dismissal of Ahmadinejad for his illegal acts. 3. Temporary appointment of Ayatollah Montazeri as the Supreme Leader. 4. Recognition of Moussavi as the President. 5. Forming the Cabinet by Moussavi to prepare for revising the Constitution. 6. Unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners. 7. Dissolution of all organs of repression, public or secret.” Such demands, which stay within the parameters of Islamic Reformism, could nonetheless weaken the foundations of the theocratic state established in 1979.

As Marxist-Humanists, we urge anti-capitalists the world over to solidarize with the Iranian people in their hour of struggle. Support the Iranian youth, women, workers, and other citizens in their freedom struggles! Do not be taken in by the reactionary anti-imperialism of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei!

To the Iranian people, we pledge our firmest solidarity, rooted in three decades of support for Iran’s independent revolutionary forces – feminists, socialists, workers, and ethnic minorities – who were shunted aside in 1979 as the theocratic regime took shape, but whose struggles continue through to today. To our Iranian comrades on the Left, we express the hope that they will neither isolate themselves from the masses nor stop short at the mere reform of the reactionary regime.

US Marxist-Humanists http://usmarxisthumanists.org

London Corresponding Committee, publishers of The Hobgoblin

June 19, 2009