Apr 26 2018

SYRIA – DOUBTS, LAW AND GRAND STRATEGY

Yassamine Mather argues that behind the cruise missile strikes in Syria lies the plan to bring about regime change in Iran

 

SYRIA – DOUBTS, LAW AND GRAND STRATEGY

 

 

Irrespective of what the experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons say, there is no doubt that the Syrian dictator is capable of using weapons of mass destruction against his own population and it is possible that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the attack in Douma.

However, the point remains that the tripartite alliance of the US, UK and France has failed to prove that the Syrian government was responsible for this terrible act before launching a military attack. In addition, after all the fake documents produced prior to the Iraq war, can anyone trust the advice of international ‘experts’? There is a level of justified scepticism amongst ordinary people about British government claims of being certain who was behind the ‘chemical attack’ used to justify the military operations of April 14. Continue reading “SYRIA – DOUBTS, LAW AND GRAND STRATEGY”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Jul 29 2013

EGYPT, THE ARMY AND THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD – TWO REACTIONARY FORCES

 

Below are  two articles on the new situation in Egypt. The most recent one is a statement from the Socialist Party of Malaya on the violent military suppression and killing of unarmed Muslim Brotherhood protestors in Cairo. The second written by  Yassamine Mather of the CPGB-WW, in response to the arrest of Morsi-led Egyptian government, whilst highlighting its reactionary nature, also argues that no-one should have illusions in the role of the army.

1. RELEASE MURSI AND STOP THE VIOLENCE IN EGYPT!

th-1

Bodies of Muslim Brotherhood supporters killed by the Egyptian Army in Cairo

 Morsi was removed by the military establishment in order to contain the rising revolutionary waves in the streets, and to prevent the deepening of the revolutionary movement. The military has hijacked the revolutionary process.

Continue reading “EGYPT, THE ARMY AND THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD – TWO REACTIONARY FORCES”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Nov 01 2008

Learn the Lessons of the Fedayeen

This is an edited version of a speech by Yassamine Mather delivered to the September 7 London meeting of the Campaign for a Marxist Party

The month of September is known in the Iranian exile calendar as the month to commemorate one of the biggest mass executions of political prisoners in the Islamic republic’s period of power. This year is the 20th anniversary of the massacre in 1988. The figures are very inaccurate, but I think the government admits that probably 15,000 socialists, communists and some from the Mujahedin were killed in prison. This was ayatollah Khomeini taking his revenge on the Iranian left following his defeat in the war against Saddam Hussein.

These were not the only working class partisans killed in the prisons of the Islamic republic, of course: thousands had already been executed since 1980 and many more died in Kurdistan. What is sad about this is not just that so many thousands gave their lives for socialism and Marxism, but there have been very few lessons learned from this whole experience. The commemorations are now almost non-political events – for many doing their duty of paying respect to ‘martyrs’ is the only political activity they now engage in.

Amongst the thousands who died were those who belonged to the Fedayeen, of which I was a member. What I am going to try to do is give a brief history of the Fedayeen, their theory and ideas, and also my own experience in two main areas – in the Kurdistan branch and on the foreign committee, first as a candidate member and later as a member.

Origins

The Fedayeen’s origins go back to 1971, to a forest in the north of Iran, where militants took up arms, having taken over a gendarmerie. They were rebelling not just against the shah’s regime, but also against the Tudeh Party, the traditional ‘official’ communist party in Iran, whose name had become synonymous with compromise and betrayal. It goes without saying that the Soviet Union did not support the Iranian revolutionary movement against the shah, and the Tudeh Party followed the USSR’s line. It was for broad alliances and the peaceful road to socialism. So there was a rebellion against the Tudeh Party amongst the revolutionary youth.

However, to take up arms against the regime in such a way was suicidal, because it was inevitable that a large number of those who did so would be killed – 13 out of the 19 of what is called the original cell of the Fedayeen died in the fighting and a number of members and supporters were executed later.

The Fedayeen was formed through the merging of two groups on the Iranian left, both opposed to Tudeh. One was led by Massoud Ahmadzadeh, who came from a guerilla family and had become very much influenced by Maoism. His politics were a combination of Maoism and guerilla warfare. One of his closest allies was Amir-Parviz Pouyan, again someone influenced by 1968, Maoism and armed struggle. Ahmadzadeh’s book Armed struggle: both strategy and tactics (!) was for many years the bible of the Fedayeen. Amir-Parviz Pouyan also wrote a book called The necessity of armed struggle against the theory of survival. The ‘theory of survival’ referred to the line of the Tudeh Party, against which the Fedayeen were rebelling.

However, Ahmadzadeh also destroyed the illusion that the ‘national bourgeoisie’ could have a revolutionary or progressive role. Describing the democratic character of the revolution, he wrote: Struggle against imperialist domination – ie, world capitalism – has some elements of the struggle with capitalism and therefore some elements of the socialist revolution are born in this struggle. On the role of proletariat he wrote: The proletariat [in Iran] is numerically weak, but its special qualities and capabilities to organise are stronger than any other class.

Bijan Jazani was another leading figure. He came from a different tendency – the youth organisation of the Tudeh Party, but he rebelled against Tudeh and agreed to bring his small forces into the new organisation.

To summarise the politics which  influenced the Fedayeen in that original period, one could say that a unique version of guerrillaism and Maoism dominated, but there was also a very simplistic attitude of ‘anti-revisionism’, which did not have much theory behind it. The founders were against the changes represented by the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and adopted a line claiming to be independent of both Russia and China. However, they remained very much influenced by Stalinism.

In debates, for example, with Communist Unity, which was more of a middle-of-the-road student organisation, the Fedayeen were very clear on where they stood on the Soviet Union. Their position was that until 1962 the USSR was 65% good and 35% bad, which, I think, is a Maoist view. However, as China adopted the theory of social-imperialism, and later the ‘three worlds’ theory, the Fedayeen and other Iranian left-wing groups distanced themselves from Maoism.

The people who lost their lives in the 1971 operation had considerable effect on the youth and student movement in Iran. Not quite what Ahmadzadeh had predicted – that the small motor would make the large motor move and the whole country would rebel. But the student movement became very sympathetic to this new, emerging left and were influenced by it, as were many young workers.

1971-79 shaped the political thought of the generation which came to the Iranian revolution as leaders of the Fedayeen. So it is an important period. We are talking about an organisation that was mainly underground, preparing for armed warfare and organising the occasional bank robberies.

Its activities were sporadic – the Fedayeen killed a couple of American military personnel in Tehran and a number of the shah’s generals. There were losses, particularly because, as an armed organisation, members of the Fedayeen could simply be killed on the street. This denied the Fedayeen a mass base and endangered anyone who supported them, such as university students, because supporters were regarded as part of the armed movement by association. Around 370 leftwingers were executed in this period, of which 60% were Fedayeen.

Many Fedayeen spent this period in prison, where a debate developed over the organisation’s line. Jazani moved away from some of the original positions. For example, in his book United front against dictatorship Jazani was clearly rejecting earlier positions taken by Ahmadzadeh and Pouyan. However, in another book, Capitalism and revolution in Iran, Jazani provided a valuable analysis of the shah’s regime.

Jazani was killed in Evin prison in 1975. It is therefore difficult to assess whether some of the writings and ideas attributed to him were truly his own opinions. The people around him became leaders of the Fedayeen on their release from prison. By 1979 there was a mass revolutionary movement in Iran and members of the Fedayeen were released from prison, some of them during the February uprising, when people broke down the doors of the jails.

During this period the Fedayeen had become a real force among students and young people, gaining popularity as a result of its past actions (although some of it was actually populist myth). However, it was now very divided, with Jazani’s supporters following one political line and Ahmadzadeh supporters another.

There were two debates going on and one was over the armed struggle. Jazani supporters contended that the armed struggle line, as both strategy and tactic, was mistaken, and in that they were right, because it had separated the Fedayeen from its potential mass base. But, on the other hand, some Jazani supporters were now excusing Soviet foreign policy and saw a positive role for the ‘national bourgeoisie’. That was a different issue.

What was quite clear was that throughout this period there was very little done in terms of theoretical work. The book that everyone read and which gave them “everything”, according to one of the Fedayeen elders I know, was Lenin’s What is to be done? That was their bible. It gave the Fedayeen their stance against sectarianism, economism, syndicalism and anarchism – their whole analysis was based on it. But they did not necessarily understand it properly, especially given the problematic translation into Farsi by the USSR Academy of Sciences, which emphasises centralism over democracy.

Throughout this period the Fedayeen had failed to make any headway in the working class or in Iranian society as a whole. In the universities, however, they had a great deal of support, as became obvious at the time of the revolution. Among the intellectuals – especially the poets, including some of the most famous – there was an amazing amount of praise for the Fedayeen. One thing is clear, though – they had no strategy about what to do, now that the revolutionary situation had arrived. That was the problem of February 1979.

While the clergy used the period of economic crisis (1974-79) to build their base, to make propaganda, taking advantage of their position in the mosque to organise and mobilise, the Fedayeen in prison were still debating in very abstract terms such questions as the united front against the dictatorship. In addition, the shah was far more lenient towards the religious groups than he was towards the left, for whom building a mass organisation was much more difficult. They attempted to go to the factories, but all they could do was distribute leaflets and then disappear.

It is not, therefore, a question of the February revolution being hijacked: more the fact that the left was simply not prepared for it. In a way it is a good job that the left did not come to power, because it had no plans, no politics, no strategy and definitely no theory about what to do.

The oil workers were crucial in the February revolution. It was their strikes that broke the back of the shah’s regime. The Fedayeen had some influence among them, but they were hampered by their lack of experience of working with the class. There was no plan about what to do with the strike, how to move it forward. Inevitably, the Tudeh Party, which did have a base in the working class, was better represented among the oil workers.

Nevertheless, the first rally called by the Fedayeen in Tehran in 1979 after the overthrow of the shah attracted 500,000 people. Despite reservations, they stood in the elections to what was a sort of constituent assembly and got a couple of million votes.

Splits

The splits in the Fedayeen started in 1979 and are still going on. I will not bore you with all the details, but the main ones should be mentioned. The first, immediately after the leaders’ release from prison, was between the supporters of armed struggle and those who said that armed struggle could not be both a strategy and a tactic, and that clearly it could not work.

The problem was that the myths surrounding Fedayeen guerilla struggle did influence the uprising of 1979. On the other hand, many Fedayeen were becoming aware of their organisation’s weaknesses – not least its total divorce from the mass movement.

The supporters of the armed struggle as tactic and strategy were in a small minority, but survived and still survive. To this day their slogan is: The shah was the running dog of imperialism and so is the Islamic republic. No theory, no analysis, but they still exist.

The main division, however, obviously came with the Minority-Majority split, revolving around the analysis of not only the Islamic republic, but a whole set of issues, such as the nature of the current era. The Majority held that it was one of imperialism versus socialism, as represented by the USA and the USSR. On Iran’s regime, they said that, although it was Islamic, the government was objectively moving Iran towards the socialist camp and therefore should be supported. The main questions in the Minority-Majority split concerned the nature of the Iranian government: was it progressive or counter-revolutionary?

The Majority consisted of those who claimed to have been close to Bijan Jazani in prison. They were called Fedayeen Majority only because they constituted a majority on the central committee, although it soon became clear that they did not have majority support in the country. They considered the regime as anti-imperialist and gave it at first conditional and later full support.

Things became much more tense after the spring of 1979, with the government strengthening itself and being in a position to impose repression on opposition forces. For that reason we see a number of specific events, not least the takeover of the US embassy by students. This was hailed by the Fedayeen Majority and most of the left outside Iran as an anti-imperialist act, but was seen by the radical left in Iran as a deliberate diversion to stop the wave of political strikes and opposition to the islamic regime.

It was this event that really brought the arguments within the Iranian left to a head. The Minority had walked out of the CC, but drew in support from thousands of left-wing students and youth who did not want to follow the islamic republic into the abyss. But it was also true that the Fedayeen Majority retained some support among the working class.

The embassy incident was also significant in that the government declared that anyone who did not support it must be a counter-revolutionary or a CIA agent. Counter-revolutionaries could be arrested and even executed – a situation that intensified once the Iran-Iraq war, which the government portrayed as a war against imperialism, started. Some on the left, including the Fedayeen Minority, adopted the line, originally put forward by ‘line three’ Maoists, that the Iran-Iraq war was a reactionary war.

That meant you could now be arrested for being a member of the Fedayeen Minority – you were part of the US aggression against Iran, you were a traitor and you could easily be killed. By contrast at this time the Fedayeen Majority might be invited into ayatollah Rafsanjani’s office for consultations over the organisation of this or that event. Obviously by this stage we are talking about revolution and counter-revolution.

Both the Majority and the Tudeh Party definitely supported the government in repressing the rest of the left. By now the Majority was totally following the Moscow line and was very close to the Tudeh Party. The Minority was telling workers that, while we defend Iran, we also have to fight the regime. But the Majority was saying, ‘Produce more – there is an anti-imperialist war and a war economy, and Iran is moving towards the socialist camp.’ Let me also say that Iranian Trotskyist groups were divided along very similar lines.

From this point on we are talking about two very different organisations. The Majority was able to operate openly until at least 1984, with offices in Tehran until 1982-83. The Minority, on the other hand, was considered a proscribed organisation, with their houses raided and a lot of deaths in those first two years.

The first congress of the Fedayeen Minority shows the diversity of forces that had taken a united position against the Fedayeen Majority. For example, there was another split in this congress, with those in favour of joining the Mujahedin in the National Council of Resistance leaving. There was also a Trotskyist Tendency and debates about entrism.

Apart from these political difficulties, it was a bad time generally for the Fedayeen Minority. Its secret printing press was raided by the government and a lot of people were killed. Political debate became confused with security issues and formed a terrible backdrop for what I would call militarism and centralism within the Fedayeen – some of the blame was put unjustly on the Trotskyist Tendency. This marked the beginning of what I call total centralism in the Fedayeen Minority – a complete disregard for democracy by people who were preserving the organisation for the sake of preserving the organisation.

The whole ideology of the Fedayeen had always been dominated by talk of professional revolutionaries, heroes, the elite – dedicated people who have no other life, no other concern (and never meet anybody else either, because they might become ‘confused’ and do something that is not in the interests of the organisation). My personal experience of the Fedayeen began at that time, in the middle of this difficult period. But for all its faults, the Fedayeen Minority remained for many years the main left organisation opposing the islamic republic.

The Majority also suffered when a CIA plant in the Soviet embassy in Tehran gave the names of many Tudeh Party members to the islamic government. Many leading members of the Majority were arrested too. It was the beginning of the end for those two organisations inside Iran – now what remains of them survive in exile. The workers who had illusions in the Majority had by then given up. By 1982 leading oil workers, who had gone with the Majority or Tudeh in the period of debate over whether the government was revolutionary or counter-revolutionary, had left these organisations.

Kurdistan base

As for the Fedayeen Minority, we were forced to move most of our leading members to Kurdistan. The central committee kept one person in Tehran and ironically, as a woman, she could not be recognised by the regime. Although the government posted her photo on every lamppost, showing her without a headscarf, in real life she was totally covered up! She managed to produce a left-wing paper in the middle of Tehran until 1985. Despite the fact that the paper featured mass work among the class more prominently, the image of the heroic guerrillas persisted as a strong element among certain figures in the Fedayeen Minority.

So basically the organisation as a whole moved to Kurdistan, leaving some key figures in various cities – people who had not been involved in the various security scares. Kurdistan was both a good and a bad time for the Fedayeen. It was a safer place than Iranian cities, but here was a Marxist organisation forced to work in the countryside amongst the peasantry, who hardly wanted to build socialism and to whom Fedayeen ideas were quite alien.

They were hospitable towards us, although I suspect this resulted from their hostility to the regime based on Kurdish nationalism rather than any understanding of what the Fedayeen actually stood for. Quite clearly they were not religious in the way that the Islamic republic was, and that is true of the peasantry all over Iran – they have their own ways of expressing their religion. I felt we were a bit like aliens there, especially we women Fedayeen, who wore men’s clothes and carried a gun. The peasant women did not really take to us and the peasant men thought us very strange.

In Kurdistan the organisation needed a lot of backbone to survive the real serious hardship. The winters were terribly cold and the summers very dry. Later, as the government mounted its offensive against us, we had to move from bases in villages to more mountainous areas, where the people were much more tribal and there was no real village.

I think the beginning of corruption within the Fedayeen Minority came during the Kurdish period, when everyone had pragmatic reasons for demanding the right of passage from Iraq. The way many of us travelled to Kurdistan originally was via the southern part of Turkey. In winter it was hell – cold, mountainous, terribly dangerous – and, of course, there was a much easier way through Iraq. All the political organisations of the Iranian left, not just the Fedayeen Minority, agreed to accept right of passage from Iraq – at a cost.

Later on there came the idea that in order to feed and clothe people it was necessary to accept financial aid, including from dubious sources. The Fedayeen were amongst the last to accept such aid, but it began in Kurdistan. So an organisation based on such high principles, whose heroes were supposed to be beyond criticism in the way they behaved, took the first small step of accepting money from Iraq, and so it went on. Today some organisations on the Iranian left see no contradiction in accepting US ‘regime change’ funds or money from certain Israeli institutions (I assume on the basis that the end justifies the means).

Debate in our Kurdish base was very limited. It was not that there was no debate at all, but most people had to ask questions in writing. As the situation became more difficult, the central committee became even more centralised, so that dissent from the political line was seen as equivalent to treachery. Dissidents were not expelled, but were treated less favourably.

For example, four months after a congress, we found out about a pamphlet written by the Trotskyist Tendency – but only thanks to a superficial book, Leninism or Trotskyism, written by a central committee member, who denounced the tendency mainly through insults. The book made a wonderful U-turn regarding one of the Fedayeen’s long-standing positions: “In a future revolutionary Iran the Soviet Union will help us build heavy industries in order to achieve socialism.”

When in a written question some of us asked the author what the difference was between this and the Tudeh Party’s ‘non-capitalist road to development’ – the line that our founders had rebelled against – his comment was: “We are not treacherous like Tudeh”! Of course, the majority of members did not share his opinions, but we were never given the chance of debating such issues or holding another congress.

Another corrupting influence was the interference of Jalal Talebani’s group in Kurdistan – Talebani is now president of Iraq, of course. His group was one of those that controlled not just Iranian Kurdistan, but bordering areas in Turkish Kurdistan and part of Iraqi Kurdistan. There is a place known as the ‘valley of the parties’, between Iran, Iraq and Turkey. With high mountains on all sides, it was a safe place to locate your base, training schools, radio stations and so on.

Talebani’s group was dominant there. He had already moved well beyond anything to do with the left and this was more than 25 years ago. He was a bourgeois politician with a tribal, feudal background even then. He would meddle in the affairs of political groups, supporting one faction of this or that group against its central committee. The whole situation was pretty bad.

However, amongst the positives was the fact that people who wanted to fight the government arrived in numbers in Kurdistan. They had no history of involvement with the Fedayeen, no theoretical background, but unfortunately there was no real attempt to give them a political education. Most members and cadres only read the works of Lenin or of ‘martyred’ Fedayeen comrades.

One of the worst events was the battle for control of the Fedayeen radio station. Ordinary members wanted a congress and the central committee refused to organise it, because it knew it would lose power. It had co-opted members who agreed with its line and there were many complaints about lack of democracy. The political line of the people who attacked the radio station in order to take control of it from the central committee was pretty dodgy and they moved gradually further to the right as time went by (now they are in discussions to rejoin the Fedayeen Majority, which gives you some indication of their trajectory even then).

However, the central committee delayed the congress and stopped everybody having a proper discussion about our strategy and tactics, and our current political theory. Where did we stand now? We were no longer guerrilaist or Maoist and the Trotskyist Tendency had been expelled. Clearly some in the central committee did not see anything wrong with the Soviet Union under Brezhnev. But none of this was discussed. This situation threw into relief the political decline of the Fedayeen Minority.

Even with all these disasters in Kurdistan, even with the fact that the Fedayeen had not managed to gain much support inside Iran, they remained a very powerful force outside the country. When I was sent to the foreign committee in 1984, we had about 1,000 supporters in the US and around 100 in several European countries.

These supporters were doing a lot of work for the Fedayeen – fund-raising, publicity, producing their own publications, including a student journal. But Fedayeen membership was totally different. Remember, this was an organisation of professional revolutionaries, and because recruitment had slowed to perhaps one a year and many had died, there were probably only around 40 Fedayeen Minority members left, compared with 60 at the first congress.

Supporters had few rights. They could elect their own representatives, but these representatives had no influence on the organisation. At the end of the 20th century this model – a body of professional revolutionaries aided by supporters – was alien to most people, but we still kept it.
Most importantly, the Fedayeen still worked on a ‘need to know’ basis, so supporters had a distorted view of both the theory and practice of the organisation. It was very hard to do much to change this, because members like myself were not allowed to divulge any secrets.

There was very little serious political discussion in the foreign committee. If in Kurdistan there was the excuse that we were fighting a war and did not want the enemy to take prisoners who knew too much and so on, in Europe that argument was really redundant.

Most of us were given so much to do and were literally so exhausted that we could not even read or study properly. It was not unusual to be sent to another continent at a few hours’ notice, so it was really a very disruptive time.

Many of us by 1985-86 had come to the conclusion that we just could not work effectively, but you cannot just leave such an organisation. I resigned three times and was told each time that my resignation was not accepted! The central committee discussed my resignation and threw it in the bin. Eventually I just stopped working and went into hiding.

Lessons

What are the main lessons? First of all, one has to remember that it is easy to criticise all of this in retrospect, just as it is easy to underestimate the repression of the shah and the islamic republic. The influence that the Fedayeen had in the birth of the new left and on the Iranian revolution is historic and cannot be taken away, though a very heavy price was paid for it.

But there were many mistakes – militarism, Stalinism, centralism, the culture of the heroic guerilla and the professional revolutionary. As the organisation disintegrated, not surprisingly heroes suddenly became villains in the eyes of many supporters.

A lesson that I personally learnt is that without debate, without democracy, without the ability to discuss every aspect of theory, your organisation will end up as a sect rather than a serious force capable of leading a revolution. I have also come to the conclusion that the end does not just justify the means. I know some people think I am very dogmatic and uncompromising, but my experience with the Fedayeen has made me very vigilant about the betrayal of principles. We started by being pragmatic on minor things and ended up compromising on very big issues.

At the end of my stay in Kurdistan I was in a base with about 40 people and, apart from one other person, I am the only survivor. That gives me a responsibility. I just cannot give up politics, because, whatever you think of the Fedayeen’s various leaders, the 38 people who died in that base were all Marxists; they all believed in and wanted to achieve socialism, though they knew they would not see it in their lifetime. Tens of thousands of Fedayeen died.

Our task is to ensure that their lives were not lost in vain.

Tags:


Nov 01 2008

No Attack on Iran

The stark warning by David Owen in his article, Signs of an Israeli strike on Iran,(1) is just one of hundreds of references to the window of opportunity for a US-backed/tolerated Israeli strike on Iran between November 2008 and mid-January 2009, when the outgoing US president might feel inclined to give a ‘nod and a wink’ to Israel.

Over the last few weeks French president Nicolas Sarkozy has publicly suggested on at least three occasions that an Israeli attack might be imminent – and acceptable – unless Iran quits enriching uranium, and implied that in such an event the international community should turn a blind eye. In early October French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said Israel was expected to launch a military strike on Iran before Tehran acquires a nuclear bomb.(2)

If we are to believe an unnamed European head of government, in May 2008 Israel considered attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, but was told by George Bush that he would not support it. According to this source, the US was anxious that Israel would not succeed in disabling Iran’s nuclear facilities in a single assault even with the use of dozens of aircraft. It could not mount a series of attacks over several days without risking full-scale war.(3)

Of course, in the meantime the US has sold bunker-buster bombs – 28,000 M72A7 66mm LAAW systems, as well as 60,000 M72AS 21mm sub-calibre training rockets – to Israel. The Pentagon was also preparing to sell the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb to Israel(4) and some analysts believe this does change the scenario compared to May 2008. In addition the next Israeli prime minister, whether Tzipi Livni or Binyamin Netanyahu, will be more hawkish than current premier Ehud Olmert.

No doubt Bush and the neo-conservatives will not be too concerned about leaving Barack Obama or John McCain with another messy war in the Middle East. In the short-term an Israeli attack and the expected Iranian retaliation might divert attention from the economic crisis and even create a temporary economic boom.

However, it is not just the US presidential elections that present thiswindow of opportunity for an Israeli-US attack. The next Iranian president will be elected in June 2009 and, given the current slump in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s popular ratings, a number of ‘reformist’ candidates have indicated their candidature (as in the case of former speaker Mehdi Kahroubi) or are negotiating terms under which they may stand (as in the case of ex-president Mohammad Khatami). If Iran elects a ‘reformist’ president, little will change internally. However, it would be difficult to convince the outside world that seyyed khandan (the smiling mullah) is as much of a threat as the lunatic Ahmadinejad.

Most Israeli leaders agree with comments made by former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy that Ahmadinejad is our greatest gift …We couldn’t carry out a better operation at the Mossad than to put a guy like Ahmadinejad in power in Iran.(5) No doubt some Israeli politicians calculate that in 2009 the current president’s loss of popular support might lead to the election of a ‘reformist’ candidate and in that case their best excuse for attacking Iran would be removed.

Contrary to the hysteria presented by pro-Zionist forces in the UK, including some on the ‘left’, Israel is not concerned about an Iranian attack. In the same interview Halevy added that an Iranian attack on Israel would probably have little impact, because Iranian missiles would largely be intercepted by Israel’s advanced anti-missile defence system. Another former senior Mossad official, who served under Olmert, told the American magazine Time that Iran’s achievement is creating an image of itself as a scary superpower when it’s really a paper tiger.(6) However, both Israel and the United States have been hoping to impose ‘regime change’ on Iran and a change of government might deprive Tel Aviv and Washington of the “gift” of Ahmadinejad.

Irrespective of what happens during this window of opportunity, Iran’s future seems bleak. Economic conditions are worsening and the sudden drop in the price of crude oil – and the effect of sanctions – have made a terrible situation worse. There is also the threat of new sanctions, irrespective of whether Obama or McCain wins next month. The Iranian regime had delusions that an Obama victory would reduce the pressure on it, but it is quite clear that Obama’s proposed petrol sanctions against Iran will be much more effective than McCain’s half-baked ideas.

Plans for a ‘coalition of the willing’ led by the US, Germany, France and the UK are being finalised, and discussions are taking place regarding targeting the export of engineering products for Iranian refineries, as well as refined oil itself(7). Given Tehran’s limited refining capacity, it is quite clear that this form of sanctions will have a devastating effect on the working class and the poor in Iran, where during the harsh winters the consumption of refined oil and gas shoots up, especially in the northern provinces.

Iranian exile groups

There is no doubt that war and the threat of war sharpen differences across the political spectrum, and the Iranian opposition in exile is no exception to this. As sanctions begin to bite and the threat of military attack increases, one can detect three irreconcilable divisions.

First we have ex-leftists and feminists, mainly in the United States, who, faced with the threat of war, have moved more and more towards a defencist position regarding the Islamic republic. A horrible example of this was displayed during Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to New York, when a number of Iranian ‘lefts’ tried to prove their ‘anti-imperialist’ credentials by dining with him and were duly photographed (the ex-feminists wearing headscarves).

The second group consists of open or secret advocates of ‘regime change from above’, together with those who have benefited directly or indirectly from the billions of dollars allocated by the US and Israeli governments for this purpose. Even if they do not admit it, these groups hope that an Israeli-US attack during the window of opportunity or, if that fails, oil sanctions this winter will overthrow the Islamic republic and that they will have a role to play under the subsequent ‘regime change’ administration.

In such a scenario, where both the Iranian working class and Iranian people as a whole are absent, the current repressive-religious capitalist regime would at best be replaced by a repressive-secular capitalist regime. But this is being championed by an unholy alliance of right-wing royalists, republicans and the small pro-US, pro-Israeli section of the Iranian exiled ‘left’ – reformist ex-trade unionists, who see nothing wrong in joining forces with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the CIA-sponsored Radio Free Iran in imperialist-inspired campaigns for ‘workers’ rights’. Members of some so-called workers’ parties and organisations in exile seem to have no problem tailing bourgeois secularism and bourgeois feminism.

Former activists of the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI) had gradually moved to the right under the influence of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – international labour organisations that are deeply compromised politically. They have been more or less silent on the role of imperialism in the Middle East and have acted as junior partners in implementing the reactionary agenda of the US and its allies(8).

So it was no surprise to see exiled Iranian IASWI activists issuing a leaflet in Farsi last year claiming that imperialism and war were not important to the issue of defending Iranian workers. It is ironic that inside Iran these forces encourage trade unionists not to challenge either capitalism or the regime. This statement led to major debates within the Iranian left both inside and outside Iran. Comrade Torab Saleth was one of the first to attack this unprincipled position in a number of articles and talks and later Iraj Azarin (a founder-member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, who left it in the mid-1990s) and Reza Moghadam wrote a series of articles(9) attacking those who seek rightwing support for Iranian workers, condemning those who deny the role of imperialism and capitalism and denouncing campaigns that deal with Iran’s lack of ‘democracy’ as if an imperialist attack would not affect Iranian workers.

In the category of those soft on imperialism one should also place groups and parties that have accepted funding from, to say the least, dubious sources, enabling them to run, for example, 24-hour satellite TV stations. In exchange they agree to compromise basic principles in the following ways:

  • 1. They do not mention the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, or the threat of war and the effects of sanctions against Iran.
  • 2. They do not identify their TV stations as ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ – instead they hide behind ‘Kurdish’, ‘secular’ or ‘feminist’ names. It seems that the US-Israeli agencies funding such stations are also under the illusion that they are supporting rightwing national minority or secular groups.
  • 3. They avoid any criticism of Iraqi occupation president Jalal Talebani.

There might be other conditions we are not aware of. It is, however, ironic that most of these ‘24-hour’ TV stations only broadcast programmes for one or two hours a day, showing scenery and playing kitsch Persian or Kurdish music for the other 22 hours. At around half a million dollars a year per station, the US and Israel are clearly not getting value for money.

Inside Iran, radical students and young workers are horrified by the antics of these so-called ‘socialists’. One leftwing student at Tehran University told us recently:

Clearly some of our exiled ‘comrades’ have lost their marbles if they think you can defend the social movements in Iran without mentioning the threat of war and the effects of the current sanctions. Have they learnt nothing from regime change US-style in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Young workers in Iran, many of whom follow internal and international events with intense interest, are also rejecting the reformist line of ex-labour activists in exile who argue that the ‘support’ given by rightwing, pro-US trade unions to Iranian workers is some kind of ‘international solidarity’. An article in Farsi published on many Iranian websites, including those of Rahe Kargar and Roshangari, denounces the position of sections of the British left, such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – whose leadership has excused in advance an Israeli attack on Iran, while at the same time has delusions about building solidarity with Iranian students. One Iran Khodro car worker told me last week: We really don’t want this kind of support. It would be the kiss of death for us.

Fortunately, however, in addition to the Tehran apologists and those compromised by imperialism, there is a third group of Iranian exiles that has taken up a consistently principled position – one that firmly opposes imperialist war, while calling for the overthrow of the Islamic regime by a revolutionary movement led by workers. Inside Iran, this is by far the largest of the three. Those groups that fall into the first two categories should be well aware that history will judge them as harshly as it has judged the treachery of the Fedayeen Majority, Tudeh and many international Stalinist and Trotskyist groups which supported the repressive policies of the Islamic regime in 1979 and the early 1980s.

The same applies to British groups – on the one hand, the defenders of the Islamic regime such as the Socialist Workers Party, George Galloway and his followers (they are to the right of the Tudeh and Fedayeen Majority Stalinists!); on the other hand, those like the AWL leadership who are prepared to excuse and justify a possible Zionist military intervention against Iran. Let us hope these people will learn from history.

Notes

Tags:


Oct 16 2008

Iran And The New Threat Of War

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 7:23 pm

Over the last few days US websites have been full of debates about an article first published on the US News and World Report website. This was sparked off by the sudden resignation of the top US military commander for the Middle East, William Fallon.

The six reasons can be summarized as follows:

  • 1. Fallon’s resignation: he had recently been quoted ruling out any military attacks against Iran.
  • 2. Cheney’s peace trip: his trip to a number of Middle East capitals is seen as possible preparation before military action, it is thought Cheney will ask Saudi Arabia to increase oil supplies if Iran’s oil is cut off.
  • 3. Israeli air strike on Syria – it is now reported that

    the real purpose of the strike was to force Syria to switch on the targeting electronics for newly received Russian anti-aircraft defenses. The location of the strike is seen as on a likely flight path to Iran (also crossing the friendly Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq), and knowing the electronic signatures of the defensive systems is necessary to reduce the risks for warplanes heading to targets in Iran.

  • 4. Warships off Lebanon: Two US warships have taken up positions off Lebanon since early March.
  • 5. Israeli comments: Israeli President Shimon Peres said earlier this month that Israel will not consider unilateral action to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.
  • 6. Israel’s continued war with Hezbollah.

One would have thought given the seriousness of the current threats, Iran’s Islamic regime would seek less controversy at home and concentrate on the external enemy, yet the reactionary clerical rulers are adamant to continue their attacks on the most basic rights of Iranian workers, women and students.

Protests continue

As workers in many factories and plants continued their protests against the government’s neo liberal economic policies, Iranian Hezbollah and the religious police were used to attack the demonstration. Workers in Gavehsan dam, Minoo sweet factory in Tehran, textile workers in Poushine Baf factory in Ghazvin, railway workers in Tabss and cement workers in Nahvand were amongst the thousands of workers who protested against the job losses, privatisation and non payment of wages in the last week alone.

At the same time Iranians went to the polls on the 14th March. Even by the standards of the Iranian regime these elections were considered a sham by the majority of the population and the very low turnout reflected dissatisfaction with the government and the fact that no one has any illusions with ‘reformist’ factions of the Islamic Republic party.

Boycott

Before the election, the unelected Guardian Council used its powers to disqualify 1,700 candidates on grounds of insufficient loyalty to Islam (even though most of them were candidates of the Islamic Republic party!). In the working class areas of south Tehran, most people were proud that they boycotted the elections and mocked the regime’s claims of high participation in the elections. Hundreds of ‘reformist’ candidates were banned from participation, however given the abysmal failure of this faction when it wasin power for 8 years, many inside Iran doubt the effect of the ban on the outcome of these elections.

The reality is 29 years after the Islamic regime came to power, very few Iranians, except the devoted paid supporters of the Shia regime, have any illusions about the various factions of Shia Islam in power. The young who constitute 70% of the population are getting increasingly impatient with middle age and older Iranians who according to the young ‘are more willing to make compromises with the current regime’.

All of these prove once more the correctness of HOPI’s positions against imperialist war , against Iran’s Islamic regime and in solidarity with social movement inside Iran. It is time the antiwar movement took up positive action in supporting the struggles of Iranian workers against war , against neo liberal capitalism.

Join HOPI at the HOPI website

SSP Policy

(Agreed at Oct. 2007 Conference)

The SSP supports the Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) campaign which aims to build and organise practical solidarity with the growing movement against war and oppression in Iran. We encourage SSP members to participate in the campaign’s activities.

Tags:


Sep 23 2007

Iranian Workers Face Two Enemies

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 8:06 pm

Yassamine Mather reports on the Iranian people’s need for genuine solidarity

The threat of military air strikes against Iran is today probably stronger than ever before.

Many commentators are speculating about possible ‘shock and awe’ attacks by Israel and the United States on Iran’s nuclear installations and other strategic targets. The US, this time supported and encouraged by the French and other European governments, has succeeded in imposing sanctions against Iran, persuading European and Japanese banks to join their American counterparts in blocking any transactions for Iranian clients.

True victims of sanctions

As a consequence of this, Iran finds it increasingly difficult to raise loans, obtain foreign currency or hold any assets offshore, as it cannot obtain dollars, euros or yen. Inside the country inevitably there is a shortage of many essential items, because the state and the private sector cannot afford to import many goods. Other items have become scarce, as the monopolies importing food and medicines are targeted by sanctions, mainly because they are owned by senior clerics and their relatives. Of course these Islamic capitalists have already found new ways of profiting from sanctions by increasing their involvement in other sections of the economy and in the black market. The true victims of the sanctions against Iran are the workers, the poor and the underclass.

As far as the US is concerned, there are many reasons why air strikes against Iran appear an attractive option. At a time when the US military and the administration announced the withdrawal of over 30,000 troops from Iraq, at a time of major economic upheaval, what better way to divert attention from military, political and economic crises but the start of a new adventure? However, on the surface it seems difficult to understand the logic behind the determination of a section of Iran’s leadership to encourage such a conflict. The reality is that, faced with dissent at home, anxiety at rising prices and fear of shortages caused by declared and unannounced sanctions, the Iranian government is as eager as the US administration to divert attention from its economic failures – branding all opposition to its medieval Islamic laws as part of Bush’s plan for regime change from above.

Contrary to the regime’s intentions, attempts at silencing all opposition using the threat of war have backfired. Most Iranians are becoming increasingly impatient with the regime, blaming its ‘adventurist’ policies for sanctions, shortages and the threat of war. In fact, despite severe repression, the number of public protests has increased over the last few months, with many Iranians blaming the regime, as much as the US, for the hardships they face in their daily life.

Iranian workers act

Over the last two weeks, thousands of unpaid Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory workers in Shoush in the Khuzestan province in Iran have been on strike. The government sent security forces to repress the workers but the strike continues. In early October, three thousand workers from this Company held demonstrations outside the Khuzestan provincial governor’s office in Shoush city (Susa) demanding their wages.

Worker demands at the sugar company include:

  • the payment of all salaries in arrears
  • an end to the sale of foreign sugar on the Iranian market by “mafia” groups
  • the right to labour representation
  • a rise in salaries to reflect the rising cost of living brought about by poor weather
  • right for workers to participate in the election of workers’ representatives
  • retirement of those workers who have reached retirement age
  • provision of adequate safety equipment
  • dismissing the company’s board of directors
  • ending threats to workers.
Iranian students protest at Ahmadinejads visit to Tehran University

Iranian students protest at Ahmadinejad's visit to Tehran University

Students demonstrate

On Monday 8th October, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed a gathering of pro regime militia at Tehran University, hundreds of students scuffled with police and chanted Death to the dictator outside a hall where the Iranian president spoke.

Students on Monday shouted: Detained students should be released and Fascist president, the university is not a place for you, as they marched towards the campus gates.

In a leaflet published in late September, a group of workers in Iran Khodro, the country’s largest car plant wrote:

Sharivar 22 [September 13] is the anniversary of the death of our fellow worker, Peyman Razilou. On that day in 2002 he died from exhaustion during the afternoon shift.

His death was four years ago and we haven’t forgotten that tragedy – or the untimely death of our colleague, Mahmood Khayami, who died from stress. And this year we have witnessed another death – this time it was Ali Akbar Shourgashti who was killed because Iranian capitalists pay no attention to health and safety regulations.

While the government is shouting from the rooftops that working hours will be reduced during Ramadan, we have not only failed to see any such reduction, but by cutting out our meal break, management has seen to it our working day is actually longer. According to the latest announcements from Iran Khodro, the production shops will start up at 6.45am instead of 6.55am and the early shift will end at 5.45pm. As you can see, the shift is longer, especially as the morning breakfast break is also abolished. Friends, why is it that we have to work with no breaks during Ramadan?

Many of our fellow workers cannot tolerate these conditions. Some are ill, while others will become ill if they don’t eat regularly. What are they supposed to do? The forces of the harassat [factory religious police] watch us like hawks. Even if we avoid them, members of the islamic council don’t allow us any peace.

Contract companies have expanded, full-time employment does not exist any more, work environments are not only more dangerous, but tens of workers have lost their lives at work, while tens of others have been incapacitated because of accidents.

As inflation is rising every day, our real wages are falling, while many benefits are being cut. Production is rising, but we do not benefit from what is exported. Today full-time employment in this factory is just a dream.

Iranians face two enemies, an external imperialist force threatening them with air strikes, further sanctions… and an internal one, determined to maintain power at all costs, defending the privileges and the wealth of the few at the expense of poverty/hunger and destitution for the majority of the population. Genuine solidarity with the people of Iran requires, not only an end to the policies of the war mongers outside Iran, but also against the theocracy in power inside Iran.

Tags:


Mar 12 2007

Against Imperialist War, for Iran’s Workers

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 14RCN @ 10:11 am

Yassamine Mather reports on the growing working class struggles within Iran

Every day the European press and media publishes information about plans for a military attack against Iran. Although many of these articles repeat previous ‘revelations’, there is no doubt that the threat of limited or extensive military action by the US cannot be ruled out. However inside Iran many ordinary people, although weary of the threat of war, seem more concerned with their daily struggles in a religious, capitalist state. The threat of sanctions has already increased the inflation rate to above 15%, while government officials still insist the annual rate of inflation will hover around 13% by the end of the current Iranian year on March 20th.

While supporters of US style regime change who are in exile hail sanctions, Ahmad Zahedi Langaroudi, a young activist/writer summarises the current effects of sanctions:

Sanctions have sunk the country into unprecedented stagnation and depression with direct consequences for Iranian society’s social and moral crises. Iran is today facing total economic devastation and dispersion. While the government is strengthened by the sanctions and gives it an excuse to spend on military exercises, ordinary people face serious economic pressures. The Iranian working class can hardly pay for its most basic needs and one can say with certainty that they just survive on eating plain bread (with nothing else). With no exaggeration this generation of workers must be facing one of the worst times in our country’s history. They are sacked in tens of thousands as factories follow ‘economic adjustment’ policies and the only way the state has found to stop their protests and rebellion is to make them drug addicts.

According to the spokesman for national accounts of Iran, unemployment reached 11% during March-June and 10.2% in June-September 2006. Most economists put the figure nearer to 15-18% amongst male job seekers. All factions of the regime are keen to pursue the ‘new’ interpretation’ of article 44 of the Islamic constitution which will allow further privatisation of what was deemed to be ‘major industries vital to national interests’. Tens of thousands of Iranian workers will loose their jobs and over the last week many left wing bloggers have concentrated on renewed attempts by the regime to precipitate the wholesale privatisation of major industries as well as the consequences of such policies. One young blogger reminds readers that contrary to claims by the supreme clerical leader, Ayatollah Khamneii, that: privatisation will create a national will to generate wealth in reality it will only increase poverty and devastation for the workers and huge fortunes for factory owners who will buy state owned factories, sack the work force and sell the land of privatised industries. The government’s plans to sell off 80% of its stake in a range of state-run industrial companies in the banking, media, transportation and mineral sectors were so far reaching they amounted to a reversal of one of its own economic ‘principles’ as declared in the Iranian constitution.

According to the Islamic government’s own statistics, 7,467,000 Iranians live below the poverty line. The poorest sections of the population are in the countryside where 9.2% lived with incomes well below the poverty line in the Iranian year 1385 (March 2005-6). In the same year the income of the top 10% earners was 17 times that of the bottom 10%.

Despite populist promises, such as the fair distribution of the oil income, the current Iranian president has presided over one of the most pro-capitalist governments Iran has seen since the launch of the era of ‘reconstruction’ in 1988, when Iran first accepted IMF loans. Every spring the IMF sends a commission to Tehran to verify the country’s compliance with global capital’s requirements and every year by mid-summer the Central Bank and the government propose further privatisation in the industrial, banking and service sectors – bringing further misery to tens of thousands of workers, the victims of the subsequent job losses and casualisation. Of course Iranian workers fight daily against these policies, through demonstrations, sit ins and occupations of factories. However the anti war coalition in the UK has paid no attention to their protests and their demands for fear of losing a few Islamists in the UK.

Over the last few weeks, young bloggers in Iran have also addressed the issue of the collapse of ‘morality’ in Iran’s Islamic Republic. Prostitution, drug addiction, export of under aged sex workers to Gulf states are not usually associated with theocratic regimes, yet 28 years after coming to power, the realities of life in Iran contradict the stereotype of such states. Unprecedented corruption means that state officials and at times senior clerics are involved in trafficking of drugs or prostitution. One student blogger refers to unprecedented rise in drug addiction among youth and blames the regime for deliberately encouraging drug addiction as a way to avoid addressing political discontent.

The student groups in Iran are also busy organising a demonstration for International Women’s Day on 8th March. For the last 28 years the Iranian government has tried to force women in Iran to cover their hair. However a recent survey carried out by the paper Etemad Melli in Tehran shows that less than 5.5% of those questioned considered ‘the headscarf or hejab important or very important for the health of society’ . The wearing of the hejab was enforced by Ayatollah Khomeini in March 1979 and the protests planned for 8th March 2007 are likely to be amongst the most important manifestations of the failure of the religious state to influence the generation born since 1979, which today counts as more than 70 % of the population.

According to another blogger, the student movement of the 1990s was influenced by liberal ideology with illusions about Western democracy.

However the total failure of the ‘reformist’ faction of the regime, as well as the disastrous consequences of the US invasion of Iraq, have radicalised sections of the student/youth movement although inevitably it has also lead to forced exile for some student activists.

The Iranian state represses any dissent

The Iranian state represses any dissent

The slogans raised at student protests in December 2006 summarise the feeling of the radicalised youth towards the issue of war, US interference and the current regime in Iran. The slogans included: Socialism or Barbarism; Students, Workers, Teachers – Unite and Fight; Freedom for political prisoners and The way to human salvation, annihilation of the Taleban (students often refer to the Iranian regime as the Taleban).

The response of the government to all dissent has been to close down newspapers, arrest activist and ban websites. The latest victim of repression is a website associated with another faction of the Islamic regime. The site Baztab was closed on Feb 19th for posting video footage showing Ahmadinejad watching a female dance performance at the recent Asian Games in Qatar. This is in breach of Iran’s prohibition on women dancing in front of men, exposing once more the hypocrisy of Iran’s Islamic leaders.

The workers movement and the student movement inside Iran inspired us to set up the Hands Off the People of Iran campaign. We have tried to remain faithful to their principle slogan: No to Imperialist war , No to Iran’s Islamic Regime.

We are trying to support the struggles of Iranian workers, students and women against war, against the neo liberal economic policies of the Iranian government and against imposition of medieval religious laws by the theocratic state in Iran. We will be holding regular meetings with direct contact to Iran so that we can hear the genuine anti war movement inside Iran. No doubt any military attack, however limited, will only strengthen the regime and the most reactionary forces inside Iran. We cannot let it happen; we cannot let down Iran’s workers and students.

Tags: