Tag Archives: Iran

March 8 protest

On International Women’s Day, women were at the forefront of the fight against the Islamic regime, writes Tina Becker

On International Women’s Day, around 100 people gathered outside the Iranian embassy in London to protest against the repression of women in Iran. Organised by the March 8 Women’s Organisation (Iran-Afghanistan), they heard a range of female speakers, who demanded an end to the Islamic regime.

No wonder that there was not a green scarf in sight. “Moussavi and his supporters are part of the Islamic regime. But we are with those women in Iran who want more than just a few reforms. We want the overthrow of the entire regime,” said Yassamine Mather, chair of Hands Off the People of Iran, which supported the event.

International Women’s Day, which was established on the initiative of Clara Zetkin and the Second International in 1910, has always focused not just on the suffering of women – but their fightback, too. And who can deny that women in Iran have to struggle against more enemies than most of us? Not only do they face the general patriarchal prejudices that all women do. They have also been at the forefront of the fight against the Islamic regime. After all, one of the first actions of the theocracy after the 1979 revolution was to force all women to wear the hijab.

But women also bear the main brunt of imperialist intervention in the country – be it in the form of sanctions or the threat of direct military intervention. “One just has to look at Iraq and Afghanistan to see how the rights of women have been rolled back since the occupation,” said Leila Parnia, the main organiser of the event.

Hands Off the People of Iran: Week of action (February 13-20 2010)

Report of Hands Off the People of Iran AGM

The following report is by Mark Harrison of The Commune group

Saturday 28th November saw 50-odd people congregate in central London for the 2009 Annual General Meeting of the Hands Off The People of Iran campaign. Being a internationalist socialist campaign this gave oneself the chance to mix with some of the more principled elements of the British left, from class struggle anarchists to the LRC.

The day was opened by a report from Hopi secretary Mark Fischer of the CPGB, he explained that the protest movement emerging this summer around the fraudulent elections had vindicated the organisation’s position. He also attacked the leadership of the Stop The War Coalition for continuing to bar Hopi from affiliation due to our “working class common sense” position of opposing both imperialism and the theocratic regime. In June Hopi approached both SPEW and the SWP for a joint solidarity drive but received no response.

Following the June elections the SWP made one of their characteristically cumbersome shifts in position and now seemingly uncritically supports the Green movement (see Socialist Worker Issue 2156, “People power rocks Iran”). However, they tarnish the meaning of socialism less than the Stalinist George Galloway who appeared on Iranian state television shamelessly defending Ahmadinejad’s government and attacking enemies of the ‘Islamic Revolution’.

The second half of comrade Fischer’s presentation included campaigning priorities for the next 12 months: he bemoaned that although we have strengthened links with dissidents within Iran and the Hopi vs LRC cricket match showed the untapped potential for us to explore, our activist base is the same as last year and we have failed to make any significant breakthrough with trade union affiliations. He ended by suggesting that the employment of a part-timer would help fix these problems.

Speaking from the floor, Charlie Pottins (Jewish Socialists Group) and Andrew Coates said they were disappointed that not enough Hopi supporters were attending demonstrations outside the Iranian embassy as this would be an ideal opportunity to spread our message. Tina Becker commented that although she would welcome the suggestion of a part-timer, she doubted that enough money would be available to pay one. Comrade Becker also mentioned the campaign’s attempts to have its voice heard in a wider a wider selection of media: the piece in Red Pepper was the most viewed on their website for a whole month. However attempts to contact The Guardian and The Independent failed to yield any response.

The next session was entitled ‘Imperialism’s need for conflict and the situation in the Middle East’ with Mike Macnair and Moshé Machover. Comrade Macnair (CPGB) demonstrated using historical examples how capitalism required a ‘top dog’ wheather it be The Netherlands, Britain or America due to the needs of credit money and a central bank. He also claimed that American imperialism is in terminal decline and compared the Vietnam war to the Crimea.

Comrade Machover (founder of the Israeli socialist organisation Matzpen) explained that even if Barack Obama wanted to take a more peaceful turn in US foreign policy this would not happen as he is being constantly hounded by the American right and members of this own party. The comrade warned of the growing threat of war. Benny Morris, one of the ‘New Historians’ has been in the media recently justifying an attack on Iran – this could have the gravest of consequences. Moshé Machover brought his speech to a close by moving his motion, ‘For a Middle East Free of Nuclear Weapons and other WMDs’.

An amendment from Tina Becker was passed which deleted the demand for “effective democratic international supervision” for the decommissioning of nuclear weapons as this could be misread to mean the United Nations. Peter Manson of the CPGB proposed an amendment to state that Hopi is against a ‘mullahs’ bomb’. Some criticised this phrasing, and the manner in which it was proposed – as a reaction to criticism by the Trotskyist group AWL – however, an amendment by Ben Lewis (CPGB) and David Broder (The Commune) stating unequivocal opposition to any development of nuclear weapons in Iran was passed by conference.

Gerry Downing (Socialist Fight) opposed the motion on the grounds that an Iranian nuclear weapon could be used to dissuade an American or Israeli attack and this could become a ‘workers’ bomb’ in the future, the comrade continued that the only reason that the Western world did not launch a nuclear attack on the USSR was due to its own nuclear capabilities. Jack Conrad (CPGB) defended the motion by stating there can be no such thing as this ‘workers’ bomb’ if it is intended to destroy other workers. Moreover, the Soviet Union was not able to hit mainland American until the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The motion was overwhelmingly passed.

Next came elections to the new steering committee, it was decided as only 11 candidates were standing they should all be elected unless anyone was opposed or wished to stand themselves. One comrade questioned the re-election of Stuart King as he was not present and the comrade also questioned Permanent Revolution’s commitment to Hopi, however the record of Stuart and of PR was defended by a majority of those present. The CPGB now hold four out of the positions on the steering committee although I would reject the notion of Hopi being a Weekly Worker front.

After lunch Marsha-Jane Thompson of the LRC read out a message of support from John McDonnell MP which received a round of applause. Comrade Thompson chaired the session lead by Cyrus Bina who attacked the idea of Iranian demonstrators mostly coming from the middle classes as 3 million people had been on the streets at one point. He also pointed out that sanctions are often a precursor to war and hit the country’s poorest the hardest, as was seen in Iraq from 1990 to 2003 – Hussein and his gang still lived in comfort whilst an estimated 500,000 lives were needlessly lost due to sanctions. (See Unicef reports)

Heading into the final session Iranian exile and Hopi chair Yassamine Mather spoke on the activity of the Iranian workers’ movement since June and moved a motion opposing sanctions which was passed unanimously. As was a motion from Ben Lewis (CPGB) which called for a day of solidarity with Iranian workers.

The final piece of business of the afternoon was a motion entitled ‘No to state murders’ moved by Charlie Pottins. On the 11th of November, Ehsa Fattahian, a Kurdish socialist was killed by the Islamic Republic. Pottins called for workers to oppose the repressive nature of the Iranian regime and the oppression of national minorities like the Kurds. The motion also attacked the Iranian state for becoming a platform for Holocaust deniers as well as refuting capitalist propaganda which compares the Islamicist regime with Hitler’s fascism. I voted for an amendment moved by Gerry Downing which called for a re-wording of the phrase ‘self-determination for all.’ However this amendment was defeated.

I considered the day a success, however it is worrying that we cannot attract more support for our cause.

Is it the oil, stupid?

Cyrus BinaTo say that oil figures prominently in the Middle East is to state the obvious. However, does this mean that the politics of imperialism in the region should be solely or mainly explained through attempts to gain control over oilfields and pipelines? That has certainly been the approach of much of the left in Britain and elsewhere. Noted US-based academic Cyrus Bina, author of The economics of the oil crisis, disagrees with such crude simplifications. Having studied the oil industry, international relations and global economics for many years, he has developed a sophisticated Marxist theory of the oil crisis, oil rent, and monopoly and competition in the oil industry. Here, in this short, representative, article, first published in 2004, he makes a convincing case that the US under George W Bush was not concerned with obtaining direct control over oilfields.1 With the ongoing US-UK campaign to impose tougher sanctions on Iran, including its huge oil industry, plans for regime change brought about from above and, failing that, a devastating military strike, the left urgently needs to correct past mistakes. Cyrus Bina is about to embark on a speaking tour of Britain that will include meetings in Manchester, Glasgow and London. In particular he will be addressing the November 28 annual general meeting of Hands Off the People of Iran

Saddam Hussein was an ideal enemy and Iraq was an easy target. Iraq had already lost nearly two thirds of its forces and more than 80% of its infrastructure and civil society in the 1990-91 Gulf War and, if that was not enough, it was subjected to frequent American and British bombings, along with nearly 12 years of stringent sanctions. The war against a weak symbolic enemy seemed inevitable.2

In the May 12 2003 issue of The Nation, there appeared a tiny piece entitled, ‘It’s the oil, stupid’, by Michael T Klare, who – like much of the majority of the popular left – is obsessed with oil in connection with the deceitful invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration.

To be sure, the motivation of the Cheney-Wolfowitz gang and the impeachable actions of the president himself all point in the direction of personal gain. Similarly, the fact of the transfer of tens of billions of dollars from the public coffers to the willing hands of a handful of favourite companies that were readily chosen as the beneficiary of this destructive creation is beyond dispute. Yet, to be worthy of analysis, one needs to be brave enough to go beyond surface phenomena in order to grasp the complexities associated with deeper epochal understanding of this bizarre tragedy.

Writers like Klare and George Caffentzis (the latter, incidentally, holds that oil is a “metaphysical” commodity) should realise that their oil scenario, firstly, ignores the analytical periodisation of oil history into: (a) the cartelisation of oil; (b) the transitional period of 1950-72; and (c) the globalisation of the entire oil industry since the mid-1970s. Secondly, it overlooks the distinction between ‘administrative pricing’ and value theoretic price formation. Thirdly, it neglects the nature of property relations, formation of differential oil rents, and character of the Organisation of Oil-Exporting Countries (Opec) in the (post-1974) globalisation of oil. Fourthly, it discounts the pivotal role of the least productive US oilfields that is key to the worldwide pricing of oil. Fifthly, it fails to recognise that Opec prices are constrained by worldwide competitive spot (oil) prices, and thus Opec oil rents are subject to global competition. And finally their oil scenario fails to realise that the unqualified usage of words, such as ‘access’, ‘dependency’ and ‘control’, in the context of a globalised oil industry, is anachronistic.3

Hegemony and mediation

The concept of hegemony is indivisible and ‘organic’ in respect to its constituent economic, political and ideological counterparts. And it is due to the consensual internal dynamics and intrinsic ideological power of the whole that one can exert minimal external and antagonistic power projection. This, in a broad measure, defines hegemony and its relevance to international relations, for instance, during the rise and fall of Pax Americana (1945-79). Gramsci, nevertheless, focuses on the “organic intellectuals” and examines their relationship with the “world of production” mediated through the complex intricacies of “civil society” and “political society”.4

Hegemony, in my view, has four characteristics. It must be: (a) organically consensual; (b) internally driven; (c) historically endowed; and (d) institutionally mediating. The focus here is upon the rise and fall of Pax Americana, a historically specific inter-state transnational system that rose after 1945 and fell in the late 1970s. The matter of hegemony and hegemonic structure is the mutual characteristic of the system as a whole, and not a separate property of the hegemon. Therefore, given the demise of Pax Americana, the claim of American hegemony remains baseless.

The epochal measure of hegemony

In order to see the concrete manifestation of hegemony in the then-ascendant Pax Americana,5 one has to focus on the application of the (tripartite) ‘doctrine of global containment’ after World War II. This doctrine embodied: (a) the containment of the Soviet Union; (b) the containment of democratic/nationalist movements in the ‘third world’; and (c) the containment, cooption and moulding of the social, political and intellectual atmosphere in the United States.6

The example of the first containment is the forceful confinement of the Soviets behind the ‘iron curtain’ and imposition of cold war. The cold war was a multidimensional hegemonic phenomenon, spanning the economy, polity and the entire realm of culture and ideology worldwide.

Evidence of the second type of containment is the declaration of an anti-colonial policy, on the one hand, and subversion of the democratic national movements in the ‘third world’, on the other. This doctrine often led to covert campaigns and coup d’etats that brought a number of dictatorial regimes to power whose contradictory material existence and discursive mirror image have, nevertheless, become an embodiment of Pax Americana itself.7 At the same time, America’s deliberate attempt at the speedy economic transformation of these social formations – for instance, via the introduction and forceful implementation of universal land reform programmes – has led to their hasty inclusion within the capitalist sphere of transnational exploitation and transnational markets.

Finally, the third containment strategy was implemented in terms of US domestic thought control and marginalisation of independent and militant institutions and labour unions within America’s ‘civil society’. Thus, historically, the American state smashed the militant labour unions and political and professional institutions of the left in order to universalise a ‘hegemonic model’ of intellectual emulation that shifted the entire American political spectrum significantly to the reactionary right. McCarthyism was just the tip of the iceberg in this regard.8 Here, underpinning social relations, on the one hand, and the mediating economic, political and ideological institutions, on the other hand, have reflected the measure of hegemony embedded in this system.

At a more concrete level, since the 1970s, it is through the particular historical relationship of state and the manifold social, political and economic integration and disintegration vis-à-vis transnational capital that the US-dominated hierarchy of Pax Americana and thus American hegemony has come to an end. Yet during the ‘golden age’, Soviet containment had its own manifold objectives that proved successful. The containment of democracy and independence in the third world chunk of Pax Americana had, nonetheless, left some degree of formal national sovereignty. And post-war containment of people’s political thought and action in US domestic ‘civil society’ had not led to the establishment of a police state with arbitrary, pre-emptive and systemic totalitarian objectives, if not practices.

In December 2001, the Bush administration unveiled its ‘National strategy to combat weapons of mass destruction’.9 The Bush administration used the unfortunate events of September 11 2001 as a convenient cover in order to advance toward its ‘permanent war’ policy.10 This was a formal annunciation of the Doctrine of pre-emption, a fundamental policy break from the Doctrine of containment, as follows:

“An effective strategy for countering WMD [weapons of mass destruction], including their use and further proliferation, is an integral component of the national security strategy of the United States of America. As with the war on terrorism [ie, invasion of Afghanistan, etc], our strategy for homeland security, and our new concept of deterrence, the US approach to combat WMD represents a fundamental change from the past ….

“Because deterrence may not succeed, and because of the potentially devastating consequences of WMD use against our forces and civilian population, US military forces and appropriate civilian agencies must have the capability to defend against WMD-armed adversaries, including in appropriate cases through pre-emptive measures. This requires capabilities to detect and destroy an adversary’s WMD assets before these weapons are used” (emphasis added).11

The mismeasure of ‘blood for oil’

Institutionally, the traditional petroleum cartels must be viewed as a precursor to, and not a substitute for, the highly developed contemporary global oil market. Today’s oil sector is globally structured and competitive.12

Here, contrary to the bourgeois reading of the term, competition is neither perfect nor imperfect. It rather reflects the coercive aspect of concentration and centralisation of capital in the oil industry. Yet, the myth of the war-for-oil scenario is hard to resist.

On the right, in an interview, James Schlesinger remarked: “The United States [Bush, the father] has gone to war now, and the American people presume this will lead to a secure oil supply. As a society we have made a choice to secure access to oil by military means. The alternative is to become independent to a large degree of that secure access.”13 On the left, Michael Klare declared: “Two key concerns underlie the administration’s [Bush, the son] thinking: First, the United States is becoming dangerously dependent on imported petroleum to meet its daily energy requirements, and second, Iraq possesses the world’s largest reserves of untapped petroleum after Saudi Arabia.”14

Thus, the positions of the right and the left on the cause of these wars are remarkably identical. The question is, why? Is it because of the correctness of rightwing neoclassical theory in revealing the universal truth? Or is it because of the fallacious economic ideology that is uncritically accepted by the theoryless and clueless left?

Finally, the Indian leftist electronic journal Aspects of India’s economy devoted its entire December 2002 double-issue to ‘What is behind the invasion of Iraq’.15 The authors conclude, among other things, that the attempted conversion of oil revenues from the US dollar to the euro prompted the invasion of Iraq by United States. As Krugman pointed out in a short note, any possible shift from the US dollar to the euro on the part of Opec will result in a “small change”.16

However, the fly-by-night authors do not lose any opportunity to grasp this straw in the midst of dreadful confusion. The globalisation of oil since the mid-1970s has rendered the sui generis categories of ‘access’ and ‘dependency’ meaningless.17 Based on my value-theoretic framework, I distinguish between what is ‘organic’ and what is ‘conjectural’ in the pricing of oil. To be sure, the price of production of the highly explored oilfields within the US lower 48 states is the global centre of gravity of oil prices everywhere. As a result, in competition, the more productive oilfields in the world are potentially able to collect additional profits in terms of oil rents.

Let us look at a simple exercise, attempting the calculation of the value of all Iraqi proven oil reserves in today’s prices.18 Given the Iraqi proven oil reserves of nearly 110 billion barrels, in two separate assumptions, let us assume two alternative production schedules of 2.5 and 5 million daily barrels, as follows:

If the rate of utilisation of these reserves, ceteris paribus, will be set at 2.5 and 5 million average daily barrels, these oil reserves would be exhausted within nearly 120 years and 60 years, respectively. Accordingly, our respective annual production schedules are:
1. (2.5 x 365 = 912.5) 912.5 million annual barrels
2. (5 x 365 = 1,825) 1,825 million annual barrels.

Assuming $20 per barrel for the price of Iraqi oil (viz the 1990s average market price) and about $10 for the Persian Gulf differential oil rent.19

Let us further assume:
1. an 8% real discount rate;
2. a 3% annual inflation rate;
3. a 3% annual growth rate of addition to the proven reserves.

Scenario 1

1. The assumption of 2.5 million daily barrels: Given an annual production volume of 912.5 million barrels within 120 years and $10 of differential oil rent per barrel, the value of differential oil rents for 120 years is as follows:
912.5 million x 120 = 109.5 billion barrels
109.5 billion x $10 = $1.095 trillion

Given an 8% annual discount rate, a 3% annual rate inflation and a 3% annual growth rate of addition to proven reserves, we have applicable rate of discount of 8%. Thus, the present value of $1.095 trillion at 8% discount rate to be received in a lump sum after 120 years is $106.8 million.

2. The assumption of five million daily barrels: Given an annual production volume of 1,825 million barrels within 60 years and a $10 differential oil rent per barrel, the value of differential oil rents at the end of 60 years is as follows:
1,825 million x 60 = 109.5 billion barrels
109.5 billion x $10 = $1.095 trillion

Given an 8% annual discount rate, a 3% annual rate inflation and a 3% annual growth rate of addition to the proven reserves, we would have applicable rate of discount of 8%. Thus, present value of $1.095 trillion at 8% discount rate to be received in lump sum after 60 years is $10.81 billion.

Based upon the second, much larger figure of the two, the price tag for differential oil rents in Iraq is slightly less than $11 billion. Now, let us assume that the Iraqi oil reserves are underestimated: say, that they are five times the reported figures. Thus, ceteris paribus, one would arrive at $11 billion x 5 = $55 billion. Now, let us double our reasonable figure of $10 for differential rent per barrel. Again, we would never arrive at a figure much larger than $110 billion for the present value of all differential oil rents to be paid to the Iraqis. In other words, the ‘Iraqi oil price tag’ does not exceed $110 billion to be received in lump sum at the end of the period. This is indeed chump change, given the staggering costs associated with prosecuting the war and the unanticipated financial and incalculable human costs of the occupation of Iraq.

Scenario 2

Let us further assume that the proceeds from differential oil rents in Iraq will be received on an annual basis: say, for 55 years. In other words, assume that the Bush administration and its future successors are able to invent a pill that tranquillises not only the people of Iraq, but also the people of the entire world in order to calmly and comfortably steal the Iraqi oil rents for 55 years, till 2058. Now we need to calculate the summation of the present value of annuitised annual Iraqi oil rents for the period of 55 years. This scenario is more realistic, since the payments of oil rents are made on an annual basis. Again, for the sake of argument, we have chosen a much larger average figure of 5 million daily barrels, assuming a very optimistic production schedule:
5 million x 365 = 1.825 billion annual barrels
1.825 billion x $10 = $18.25 billion

The present value of $18.250 billion annual payment, to be paid for 55 consecutive years is equal to $224.8 billion.

According to the Nordhaus estimates, the direct and indirect costs of forceful occupation of Iraq would range somewhere between $120 billion and $1.6 trillion over a 10-year period.20 Should my estimated value of Iraqi oil warrant such a huge undertaking? As we can see, the reductionist view of ‘no blood for oil’ is hardly an answer to the complex objective forces that – despite the misleading intention of new US foreign policy – are underlying the upheavals of present global polity. Rather such misleading intention, and prior and subsequent actions on the part of the US government, are readily explicable by the underlying epochal forces that so irreversibly led to America’s loss of hegemony, on the one hand, and American refusal to accept it gracefully, on the other hand.

This is the main and real cause of the new world disorder rather than this ad hoc ‘oil scenario’ that the popular left harps on about.

Notes

  1. This article originally appeared in Union for Radical Political Economics Newsletter of spring 2004. See www.urpe.org/index.html
  2. See, for instance, a neo-conservative view by Kenneth Adelman: ‘Cakewalk in Iraq’, The Washington Post February 13 2002.
  3. For theoretical underpinnings see C Bina The economics of the oil crisis New York 1985.
  4. A Gramsci The prison notebooks New York1971, p161.
  5. See R Steel Pax Americana New York 1977.
  6. See GF Kennan Memoirs: 1925-1950 Boston 1967.
  7. The 1953 and 1954 CIA coups against Mossadegh and Arbenz are but the two prime examples.
  8. See MB Levin Political hysteria in America: the democratic capacity for repression New York 1971.
  9. One has to distinguish between epochal and temporal reflections of the Bush administration.
  10. The Wolfowitz-Berle neo-conservative project of permanent war, particularly for ‘redrawing’ the map of the Middle East, was formulated long before September 11 2001.
  11. White House The national security strategy of the United States of America September 17 2002, pp1,3.
  12. Here competition is defined in Marxian terms.
  13. J Schlesinger, interview: ‘Will war yield oil security?’ Challenge March-April 1991.
  14. MT Klare, ‘Oiling the wheels of war’ The Nation October 7 2002. As a corollary, the ‘necessity’ of oil exploration from Alaska’s wildlife can also be justified by such arguments.
  15. ‘Behind the invasion of Iraq’ Aspects of India’s economy No33-34, December 2002.
  16. See P Krugman, ‘Nothing for money’, March 14 2003: www.wwsprinceton.edu/~pkrugman/oildollar.html
  17. MT Klare, ‘Oiling the wheels of war’ The Nation October 7 2002.
  18. This is a rough exercise just for the sake of illustration and approximation of the order of magnitude of Iraqi oil rents. One or two points in the discount rate or inflation rate would not make a significant difference in the basic argument. The figure of $224.8 billion is for 55 consecutive years. If the occupation of Iraq is assumed to be for a 10-year period or so, then a fraction of this figure will be relevant, which in turn will be even much smaller in magnitude than the commonly estimated cost of US war and occupation of Iraq.
  19. See C Bina The economics of the oil crisis New York 1985.
  20. WD Nordhaus, ‘Iraq: the economic consequences of war’ New York Review of Books Vol 49 (19), December 5 2002.

Student protests in Iran

Since the students in Iran returned to university recently there have been renewed anti-government protests on the campuses. Over the last two days there have been thousands of students demonstrating in Tehran. Here is video footage of today’s protest at Sharif University in Tehran.

Iran: mass protests re-ignite

Yassamine Mather calls for support and solidarity for workers in Iran

Green-Quds-Day-Tehran8

If anyone was in any doubt about the continuation of the political crisis in Iran, demonstrations on Friday September 18 in Tehran, Tabriz, Mashad, Shiraz, Isfahan and elsewhere put an end to that.

Tens of thousands of Iranians, ignoring repeated warnings by the security forces, used the state-sponsored demonstrations for ‘Qods day’ (Jerusalem day) on the last Friday of Ramadan to voice their opposition to the government and the clerical regime’s supreme leader. Undeterred by two months of executions, arrests and show trials, the opposition used the opportunity to fill the streets and voice their protests.

Earlier, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had once again done harm to the Palestinian cause by repeating his abhorrent holocaust-denial claims: “The holocaust was a false pretext for the establishment of Israel in 1948. It is a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim … Why shouldn’t we be allowed to research this? … All western governments are victims of a Zionist conspiracy that dictates their foreign policy.” Never mind capitalism or imperialism – it is all to do with conspiracies. Many will remember anti-Semites making similar remarks in the 20th century.

But it is not just this anti-Semitic message that helps the Zionists. A section of Iranian youth who have heard nothing but empty rhetoric about Palestine, all mouthed by a reactionary dictatorship, are not as supportive of the Palestinian cause as older generations. In a country where the majority of the population live in poverty, those who are foolish enough to believe the Shia state’s exaggerated claims relating to financial support for Hezbollah or Hamas blame such largesse in ‘foreign aid’ for their own destitution.

However, last Friday was mainly about opposition to Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, and Ahmadinejad. The demonstrators were shouting for the Iranian government to go, with slogans such as: “Death to the dictator. We will revenge our dead. Death to Khamenei. Coup d’etat government, resign, resign! Dictator, dictator, have shame; the Iranian people are ready to revolt – this is our last warning.” A number of slogans were addressed to the bassij (Islamic militia) – some calling on them to stop siding with the oppressors and join the people, others warning them of the consequences of killing protesters.

A minority were shouting a reactionary, nationalist slogan: “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon. My life for my country.” This was a reference to the regime’s support for Palestinians in Gaza and Shias in Lebanon, and it was promoted mainly by rightwing forces. This slogan had been rejected out of hand the week before the demonstration by sections of the left.

A statement by the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran (Rahe Kargar), distributed last week, reminded Iranians of their shared destiny with the oppressed in Palestine and Lebanon. Saying that Palestine should not be equated with Hamas. Rahe Kargar pointed to the unprecedented solidarity shown by people throughout the world for the protest movement in Iran. The leaflet called on demonstrators to reciprocate this internationalism and proposed the slogan, “Wake up – Iran has become Palestine”.

This was a timely reminder for sections of the Iranian left, many of whom are increasingly tailing bourgeois liberal politics rather than coming up with a leftwing alternative. The Iranian working class cannot struggle for power in one country; if we are serious about ditching the Stalinist idiocy of socialism in one country, the tasks of the Iranian working class cannot be limited to the borders of Iran. More importantly, whether Iranian rightwing nationalists like it or not, it is the US and western powers who in recent months have associated the two issues of Iran and Palestine more than ever before.

Obama

In late August news from the Middle East was dominated by claims that Barack Obama had managed to convince Israel to freeze its construction of new West Bank settlements in exchange for the US adopting more stringent policies regarding the Iranian nuclear plan. Soon afterwards, especially following the visit of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Europe, leaders in London, Paris and Berlin were singing from the same song sheet. We were ‘reliably’ informed that US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell was preparing to announce the resumption of peace talks by the end of September. The American promise to take a firmer line against the Iranian nuclear plan was supposed to convince Jerusalem it needed to get on board the initiative. The US, Britain and France plan to pressure the UN security council to expand sanctions against the Islamic Republic, including sanctions on its gas and petrol industries – a move that is claimed will destroy Iran’s already collapsing economy.

Less than a week after these pronouncements it became clear that Israel had officially approved the construction of more than 500 new homes in the occupied West Bank. This is in addition to Netanyahu’s refusal to apply any freeze at all to the colonisation of Greater Jerusalem, or to stop construction projects that have already been started. The new homes will be built in six settlements – all of which are included in the blocs Israel wants to retain under any peace agreement, according to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper.

On the other hand, despite news of direct talks to be held in early October, threats of military action against Iran are increasing. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal in early September warned Obama that the United States must quickly put a stop to the Iranian nuclear programme, otherwise Israel will bomb the facilities: “An Israeli strike on Iran would be the most dangerous foreign policy issue Obama could face,” the paper declared. Another Republican hawk, former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, maintains that additional sanctions alone will not be enough to make the Iranians abandon their nuclear ambitions. William Cohen, who served as defence secretary during the Bill Clinton presidency, says that “there is a countdown taking place” and that Israel “is not going to sit indifferently on the sidelines and watch Iran continue on its way toward becoming a nuclear power.”

Netanyahu has skilfully used the huge general onslaught against Obama by the forces of the US right, with whom the Israeli PM is allied. Together they have managed to deflect the pressure on Israel to freeze colonisation of the occupied territories, and divert attention to the Iranian ‘threat’. At the moment it seems that the US right and their Israeli ally are ahead. George Mitchell’s trip to the Middle East got nowhere, and it is unlikely that Obama will make any progress in talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

We in Hands Off the People of Iran have always maintained that threats of further sanctions and war have nothing to do with the alleged development of Iranian nuclear weapons. All the evidence suggests that the Iranian regime’s plan is (eventually) to achieve nuclear weapons capability, rather than actually produce nuclear weapons.

However, we are witnessing a conflict between two alternative US strategies regarding Iran’s future role in the region. During his election campaign Obama seemed prepared for some accommodation, allowing the Islamic regime limited regional influence in exchange for better cooperation with the US. But the US right and Israel preferred to continue the Bush policy of no accommodation, tighter sanctions, regime change from the outside and the threat of military action. The American promise to take a firmer line against the Iranian nuclear plan was supposed to convince Jerusalem to get on board the initiative, yet less than a year into the Obama presidency, pressure from Israel and the US right – at a time of political uncertainty in Iran, combined with Ahmadinejad’s holocaust denial – has ensured there is no progress in this area. The threat of an Israeli military strike against Iran, as well as the possibility of new sanctions, is today as serious as ever before.

Whichever way one looks at the problem, the issues of Palestine and Iran cannot be separated. Yet an oppressive regime in Iran cannot be a genuine ally of the Palestinians; and the liberation of the Iranian people cannot be achieved while the region continues to suffer war, occupation and repression.

On September 18, prompted by the left, some demonstrators in Tehran had the right slogans: “Whether in Gaza or in Iran, stop killing people; Iran has become like Palestine.” The dominance of this slogan in the Tehran demonstration showed the presence and effective role of the left. The demonstration was also unique in a number of other ways. As many commentators have said, it marked a new phase in the continuing struggle between the government and the Iranian people. The massive turnout almost two months after the protests of June and July prove the vulnerability of the unpopular president and government.

New phase

The composition of the protest differed from earlier demonstrations, in that protesters in Tehran and in other major cities were almost uniquely from the poorer districts. The middle classes only came out mid-afternoon, when reports of the size of the demonstrations assured them of safety. It was the first real nationwide protest – tens of thousands came out in Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashad, Tabriz, Rasht, etc. Older women were present in large numbers, probably for the first time since the recent wave of demonstrations started. According to many accounts, Iranians had left their homes in the morning of September 18 fearful that they would be in a small protest surrounded by vicious bassij militia. Only when they reached the agreed assembly places did they become aware of how large the protests were.

Many recount with joy the fleeing of the state’s ‘Hezbollahis’ and their oversized speakers, once they realised how big the opposition protests were going to be. In many of the films on the internet, the faint voices of pro-government demonstrators are being drowned out by slogans from the much larger and more militant opposition. Before the demonstration, it had become clear that Ahmadinejad and his government favoured using the full might of the state to frighten the population. However, the supreme leader and his allies in the conservative faction of the regime, increasingly worried that further repression might challenge the very existence of the Islamic regime, tried to portray the Qods demonstration as a day of ‘national unity’. In the end, of course, the day exposed the deep divisions in Iranian society for all to see.

Although tear gas was used and a number of people were arrested, the level of force use against the demonstrators was less than on previous demonstrations and certainly less than threatened. It will be interesting to see how the protesters will react to this clear retreat of the supreme leader.

Another important factor regarding the September 18 protest was the continuation of the protests at an important football match in the evening. The spectators’ anti-government slogans could be heard for miles around the stadium, but the national radio and television company was forced to abandon live coverage of this rather crucial game between Estghlal and Steel Azin, blaming faulty cameras in the stadium! Foolishly the match was broadcast live on radio, so very few people in Iran are in any doubt about the nature of the state broadcasting authority’s ‘technical’ difficulties. In another victory for the demonstrators on the same day, Ahmadinejad was forced to cut short an interview on national TV, as shouts of “Death to the dictator” could clearly be heard during the broadcast.

No doubt the events that day will  shape the coming weeks and months. Schools and universities are opening this week, although many campuses will remain shut until November. The experiences of the demonstration and the football match clearly show that, as soon as a crowd gathers, political opposition to the regime will be voiced. On the other hand, short of calling for a curfew and direct military rule, how can the government avoid public gatherings? And, if it does go towards a curfew, how will reformist opponents within its own ranks react? Are they going to ban football matches? Will they close down universities and high schools?

In a clear sign of retreat, Khamenei’s speech at the end of Ramadan continued a theme taken up earlier in September, in an attempt to pacify sections of the opposition. Khamenei had earlier rejected the idea that foreign powers were involved in the country’s post-election demonstrations: “I do not accuse leaders of the recent events of being stooges of aliens, including the US and Britain, since it was not proved for me. We should not proceed in dealing with those behind the protests on the basis of rumours and guesswork.”1 On September 20, with ‘reformist’ ex-president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani standing a couple of metres from him, he warned government supporters against accusing opposition members of wrongdoing without proof: “While a suspect’s own confession was admissible, his testimony or accusations could not be used to implicate others.”2 A clear dismissal of the show trials which have dominated the government’s agenda in the last few weeks, where ‘reformist’ prisoners accused Rafsanjani and fellow reformists Mohammad Khatami and Mir Hossein Moussavi of collaborating with foreign enemies.

Khamenei’s speech has pacified leaders of the ‘reformist’ movement, as shown by Rafsanjani’s conciliatory tone in a speech to the council of experts on September 22.3 But it is clearly too little too late as far as the protesters are concerned.

In another development, ayatollah Hosein-Ali Montazeri (once the designated successor to Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini), has replied to a letter from Moussavi, who was seeking guidance, in this way on September 22: “The path to reforming the current system is a very difficult one: the entire regime has lost credibility … A government that was supposed to be the pride of Shias throughout the world has turned the youth and the masses in our country against Islam and religion.”4

The September 18 protests came after three weeks of intensified workers’ protests. In Pars Wagon (train carriage makers), workers angry at non-payment of wages smashed tables and chairs in the canteen. In the Iran Khodro car plant, workers commemorated the death of a fellow worker who collapsed after working three successive shifts. Similar workers’ protests took place in Arj (manufacturer of electrical household goods), Arak Aluminium and many other workplaces. Although most of these protests started off in support of economic demands and against closures, whenever the security forces appeared this prompted the use of the now familiar slogan of “Death to the dictator” – an echo of “Death to the shah”, which dominated the workers’ protests of 1978-79.

Workers in Iran need our support and solidarity – against both imperialist threats and the repressive religious state.

Notes

  1. news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8223606.stm
  2. Associated Press, September 20.
  3. www.alalam.ir/english/detail.aspx?id=80499
  4. www.amontazeri.com

Iran: misogynist torturers cling to power

Workers are growing in confidence, reports Yassamine Mather

Over the last few weeks, following the show trials of ‘reformist’ personalities and the imposition of even more severe forms of repression in Iran, the nature of protests has changed considerably.

However, demonstrations continue on a daily basis in Tehran and most other Iranian cities, with numbers attending ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand. Reports from the working class neighbourhoods of Tehran, such as Ekbatan, Apadana and Karaj, and from the white-collar suburbs of Tehran Pars, indicate that anti-government demonstrations take place every night and often lead to confrontation between protesters and Bassij militia.

Last week dozens of political prisoners started a hunger strike in Evin prison and on the first day of Ramadan families of those arrested in recent protests gathered outside calling for the immediate release of all political detainees. There are daily protests in factories and workplaces against the political and economic conditions and in some provinces, including Khorassan, there is news of peasants protesting against confiscation of their land by religious authorities. Five hundred peasants from Sarakhss have staged a sit-in for the last week in front of Mashad’s main petrol station, complaining about the use of religious legislation to expropriate their land.

The crisis in the government continues, with clear divisions between the conservative ‘principlists’ and the proposed government. On Thursday August 20 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled a cabinet boasting 11 new faces, including three women. Loyalty to the president seemed to be the main factor, as ‘conservative’ and ‘reformist’ MPs alike condemned the nominations. Clearly Ahmadinejad will face an uphill struggle getting them passed by the majles (parliament). Even the principlist faction seems to be opposed to most of the nominations, guaranteeing months of uncertainty and the continuation of the political crisis. According to the ILNA news agency, speaker Ali Larijani complained: “The ministry is not a place for apprenticeship; it is a place that requires expertise and experience”.

Iran’s defence minister-designate is on an Interpol ‘wanted’ list over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in Argentina. Interpol put out a ‘red notice’ for Ahmad Vahidi in 2007 over the Buenos Aires attack that killed 85 people. As for the women appointees, they were clearly chosen for their ultra-conservative views on everything – including women’s rights. These comments from Fatemeh Ajorloo, Ahmadinejad’s choice for minister of social services, speak volumes: “… it is men who go for khastegari [the custom of a man asking for a woman’s hand] and they remain responsible for the marriage. This is great: that is how society should operate. Why did the family break down in the west? Because women went to work and men lost their true role.” That was from a speech in defence of quotas for university entrance – the government believes too many women are going into higher education.

Ajorloo is also a defender of new legislation before the majles entitled ‘Efaf’ (chastity). She is in favour of a ‘uniform’ for Iranian women of all ages – a long black chador (a tent-like covering from head to toe, pinned under the chin) and, to be fair, she herself is a walking advertisement for this bizarre attire, as revealed by her official photos.

However, even tame Islamist women like Ajorloo are too much for Iran’s clerics. A number of senior ayatollahs have expressed opposition to Ahmadinejad’s decision to nominate women ministers. On August 22 conservative MPs told the media that leading Iranian clerics – including grand ayatollahs Nasser Makarem Shirazi and Lotfollah Safi Golpayghani – had “doubts about choosing female ministers and want Ahmadinejad to reconsider”, according to the Tehran Emrouz newspaper.

Defending his nominations for ministerial posts, Ahmadinejad managed to offend almost everyone by comparing his outgoing health minister, Kamran Lankarani, to a peach that any man would want to eat! A conservative MP, Ali Ghanbari, said it was beneath the president’s dignity to compare his minister with a fruit. A video of Ahmadinejad’s peach comments has been widely circulated on the internet and posted on blogs and social networking sites.

‘Against torture’

As the protests continue and news of atrocities in prisons and detention centres spreads, the anger against the ineffectiveness of ‘reformist leaders’ – some of whom are clearly involved in behind-the-scene deals with the conservative faction – grows.

The super-rich ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani is in the process of being rehabilitated in the centres of religious and political power. He was consulted by the supreme leader in the nomination of the new chief justice and attended his inauguration ceremony. Rafsanjani’s August 22 statement urging Iran’s political factions to follow orders from the supreme leader, had all the hallmarks of a new conciliatory move. Rafsanjani has also reportedly reiterated his previous call to politicians and the media to “avoid causing schisms” and “take steps toward the creation of unity”. Clearly for Iran’s ‘reformists’, the survival of the Islamic regime remains paramount.

Over the last two months ‘reformist’ presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi have done very little to improve their standing, falling far short of the expectations of their most ardent supporters. However, as news of the torture and death of protesters detained after recent demonstrations spread, first Karroubi and then Moussavi realised that unless they acted they would lose any credibility. First came the statement by Karroubi that he was enraged by the torture of demonstrators and then both men issued statements condemning the torture and rape of detainees – ‘reformist’ leaders say 69 protesters died in the post-election violence.

Although one should welcome any condemnation of torture, some of us cannot help remembering comrades who died under torture when Moussavi was prime minister and Karroubi was a close ally of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini – he was head of the Khomeini relief committee and the Martyrs’ Foundation between 1979 and 1989. Let me mention one in particular – comrade Nastaran, with whom I shared a room in Kurdistan. In the autumn of 1983 she left our Kurdistan Fedayeen base, having been given responsibility for a workers’ committee in south Tehran.

Nastaran was arrested a few months after returning to Tehran and, although she had tried to swallow her cyanide tablet (a standard practice among arrested Fedayeen members), she did not manage to commit suicide. Fellow prisoners, who saw her between the day of her incarceration and her untimely death are unanimous in describing the frightening state to which she was reduced following months of torture. She “couldn’t stand on her feet”, she had been lashed so many times. She “couldn’t see – her eyes were too swollen from all the beatings” …

Over the last week I have not stopped thinking about Nastaran. Maybe if messrs Moussavi and Karroubi had done something about torture in those days, she and thousands like her who died in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic would still be alive. But, of course, had they done so, their beloved Islamic Republic, the regime they still want to save, would not have survived the protests of the last three decades.

In 2009 the religious judiciary denies all accusations of torture and rape of prisoners as baseless – the detainees making these claims cannot even produce the basic prerequisite for a prosecution: witness statements from four male adults!

In the meantime the trials of ‘reformist’ leaders have continued and have featured on a tragicomic show on state TV. In addition to the ministers of ex-president Khatami and ideologues of the Islamic ‘reformist’ movement such as Saeed Hajjarian, the conservative faction is now trying in absentia German sociologists Max Weber and Jürgen Habermas!

Hajjarian, the prosecutor said, once met Habermas, who was famous for his theory of civil disobedience, according to which it is permissible to refuse to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government, or of an occupying power, without resorting to physical violence. The accusations against Weber were not mentioned in court (presumably because he died in 1920), but the Shia conservatives clearly do not like him either!

Last week Moussavi, Karroubi and Khatami launched a new front: the ‘green road to hope’. As the title suggests, this a road to nowhere, yet it is already clear that the front, which aims to “unite the opposition from below” with branches in every city and community, is organised from above. As time goes by, another generation of young Iranians is learning through practice not to have any illusions about reformists leaders whose only concern remains their tattered political careero:s. Yet in the absence of a powerful left, there is little prospect for real change in Iran.

If up until June 2009 factory owners and the government blamed the ‘world economic crisis’ for non-payment of workers’ wages, job cuts and mass unemployment, after June they have had another excuse: the protests paralysed the economy and that is why workers cannot be paid. No doubt Iran’s economy is in serious trouble, yet it is mainly the working class, the wage-earners, who are paying the price.

Over 1,500 major Iranian companies are on the verge of bankruptcy and they include major firms such as the Arak Automobile Factory and Azar Water Company. Iran Khodro, Iran’s main car plant, was only saved by an injection of over $1 billion by the government in early August. Managers of this factory and other major companies are encouraging workers to accept redundancy packages so that they can conform with the government policy of only employing temporary contract workers (Ahmadinejad’s last minister of labour had promised that by 2010 100% of Iran’s workforce will be employed on such contracts).

But workers are resisting. Kashan textile employees are amongst those staging demonstrations against the non-payment of wages – they have not been paid for 22 months. These workers have pointed out that their dispute with managers predates the current political crisis. This month there was a major dispute at the Pars Wagon Company, when workers destroyed the canteen in protest at non-payment of wages, smashing windows and breaking tables and chairs.

And workers in Haft Tapeh staged a noisy sit-in on Friday August 16 as part of a long-standing struggle with the factory’s management. They are demanding the implementation of an agreed job reclassification, increased wages, better overtime pay, an end to the logging of every task and no more sackings of contract workers.

There are also directly political protests in workplaces. On hearing of an impending visit by Ahmadinejad, workers at the Bandar Abbas shipyard threatened to go on strike in mid-August, saying they would not allow a “coup d’etat president” to visit.

News coverage of events in Iran often concentrates on what is happening amongst the ruling circles, but Pars metal workers protesting against job cuts, low wages and poor working conditions for the last six months say they will continue their protests until the media inside “Iran’s capitalist hell” is shamed into broadcasting their demands.

In other developments, a new formation in Tehran, the Council in Support of Iranian People’s Struggles, has become more active. It includes political organisations, women’s groups and sections of the independent left in opposition to the entire regime and in support of workers’ struggles.

Clearly most of these protests would have gone on irrespective of the political turmoil. However, the events of the last few weeks have given a new momentum to workers’ actions, whose slogans are now more political and less defensive. They are lasting longer and pose a real threat to the efforts of all factions of the regime to control the political situation and maintain the status quo.