"I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favourite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…”
A blogger on the eve of Saturday 20 June
The demonstrations that have taken place in Tehran since Iran’s Presidential (fraudulent) election results were announced on Friday 12 June have, up until Friday 19 June, been growing bigger every day. This, despite a government ban on protests, a shutdown of communications such as mobile phones and internet, the arrest of leading clerical, political and other people, clashes with the police and attacks on the universities. A dozen people have been reported as killed by the police, but it could be many more.
On Saturday 20 June protests in Tehran went ahead but under the threat of police violence. Thousands of police were deployed on the streets of Tehran armed with water canon, tear gas and guns. Ten people were reported shot dead. The murder of one young woman Neda Soffani was broadcast on Youtube and she has become a symbol of the demonstration.
Today, Monday 22 June, there are reports of a 1,000 strong rally and also a vigil for Neda Soffani in Hafte Tir Square. This despite further threats of violence from the regime. Posted on the website(!) of the Revolutionary Guard, was a threat to crush any further demonstrations. Also today the Guardian Council admitted that there had been irregularities in 50 voting districts. Perhaps they think that is an admission that is realistic enough to satisfy the protesters. It seems unlikely.
On Thursday 18 June we learned that the workers had begun, tentatively, to enter the struggle as an organised force – the Khordo factory workers were organising a slow down. Even if the movement now subsides or is intimidated into going underground by the threats of repression, the Iranian regime has been threatened, the basis of its power has been fundamentally questioned.
On Friday 19 June the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has control over crucial sources of political power in Iran, conducted Friday prayers in front of a huge male audience, a gathering built by Iranian state TV. It was a chilling show of strength and he used the occasion to call for the protests to stop. Khameni made a clear that thought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the rightfully elected President. Moreover he backed Ahmedinejad over former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani, because that is the “power” behind opposition candidate Mousavi and the man Khamenei feels most threatened by.
Khamenei condemned the idea of a “Green Revolution” i.e. the idea on which the Iranian protestors have modelled their movement — i.e. a movement that is for a fair democratic result and to remove a corrupt political system (as in seen in Ukraine and Georgia). Khamenei called the Green Revolution a “Zionist” (i.e. western, imperialist) import. A crackdown is on the way.
The stand off between the regime and the protestors over the election cannot go on. Khamenei’s offer to organise a partial recount will not do. The protestors want more, many want much more. The uncertainty, the instability, the long-term threat to the regime cannot stand.
Perhaps the most serious indicator of split in the regime came today (Monday) with a report that a Tehran commander of the Revolutionary Guard, General Ali Fazil, had been arrested for refusing to carry out Khameniei's order to use force against the demonstrators.
Mir Hossein Mousavi (and the other opposition candidates) were cheated as far as the demonstrators are concerned. Whether they actually were or not is something that, given the impervious nature of Iran’s political system, we will never know. For the demonstrators it is enough that Khamenei, told his protégé Ahmadinijad in advance to “prepare for power” as if their vote, their political voice counted for nothing. So they have been expressing their disgust and disbelief in the most dramatic way. In an inchoate way the demonstrations are directed at the narrowness of the entire political system, its complete lack of freedom and of democracy. But there is also an organised movement – in the Universities, among the women’s groups and “civic organisations”. These groups did use the elections as a “political space”, going beyond casting votes for particular politicians. That too is contributing to the mood.
It is no surprise that the protestors chose to make Mousavi’s candidacy their cause, there are no other readily available alternatives. Mousavi is a disgusting individual, a long time member of the political elite and responsible for killing thousands at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. His sponsor, former President Rafsanjani is no better…. Does that make the protesters hapless tools of these clerical fascists? Or of Western imperialism. After all characters like Rafsanjani, with wealth beyond imagining, are more oriented to the west.
No it makes them people who are struggling for clear political vision after years of being trapped in a world of fear, where everything from a struggle for rights at work, to the right to show affection have been monitored and censored. And remember this is a society which has taken years to recover from a war where a generation of young men were cut down for no territorial and no other perceivable gain.
In any case the demonstrations have not so far been stymied out of “respect” for Mousavi. When Mousavi tried to call off the demonstrations, they went ahead, anyway.
The protests arise from the combination of two things.
1. The splits within the clerical hierarchy. Probably the so-called “reformists” are in a minority in the country but they have been a feature of the regime since the end of the Iran-Iraq war and that has had its social consequences and has increased competition within the clerical establishment.
2. An outpouring of long-pent-up-grievances, a reflection of social change and a gap between the aspirations of an educated/urban population and the Islamist populism of the clergy which has held Iran together.
The Shi’a clerical hierarchy who are not part of the political class in Terhran, are based in Qom. They maintain their independence from Khameini’s state machine. But each member of the hierarchy is a “power” in his own right, collecting taxes from his followers. The clerics are increasingly dissatisfied with Khameini’s political centre. Khameini, unlike Ayatollah Khomeini before him, has reportedly few supporters among the hierarchy. So there is a complex struggle going on, which is not only between the so-called reformists in the hierarchy, those who want a “loosening” of the system, while still retaining its basic Islamist character, and “hardliners” around Khameini who want something closer to Khomeinist clerical-fascist rule.
This week Rafsanjani has been in Qom where the "Assembly of Experts" sits trying to get support among the clerics. What does Rafsanjani want apart from more power for himself?
The first thing to know is that Rafsanjani is (probably) the richest man in Iran with interests in the oil industry and a huge financial empire. As President between 1989 to 1997 he oversaw the reconstruction of post-war Iran. That required neo-liberal policies of privatisation, foreign investment. That led to a decrease in state subsidies and rising unemployment. Under his rule there was also a licensing of limited social secularisation and liberalisation. Rafsanjani’s pragmatic rule (and that of Khatami who succeeded Rafsanjani) was intensely disliked by the hardline wing of the regime.
With Ahmedinejad as their Presidential candidate in 2005 the hardliners sought to mobilise the poor of the towns and countryside – the people who had been affected by years of neo-liberalism. However (and this is one of the big factors in the background to current events) Ahmedinejad has not been able to deal with Iran’s economic problems – both inflation and unemployment have increased dramatically, unemployment particularly among the young and among female graduates.
The people around Ahmedinejad built a new configuration of extreme, inward looking, Islamism based around the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij militia, Parliamentary deputies and theocratic institutions. They tried to create a new authoritarian environment which was helped by the perceived extrernal threat of the US under George Bush. Now Iran can feel less threatened by the west there is impetus for detent. But the centre does not want to move.
Khameini’s choice, the backing of Ahmedinejad, is an expression of his attempt to cling onto power. But he may have to resort to stronger forces (the military and Revolutionary Guard if he can control those bodies) to back up his agenda. But even if Khameini is able to put down the protestors, he will not be able to put down the clerics or the forces within Iran who want economic development, not least to exploit Iran’s boosted regional status.
According to Al Jazeera, Rafsanjani is trying to find a new Supreme Leader to take over from Khameini. There are, apparently, willing candidates. On Saturday 21 June Mousavi upped the ante against Khameini by publishing a response to Khameini's Friday speech, in which Mousavi basically calls Khameini a liar. If Rafsanjani and Mousavi manage to establish a new religious-political coalition that will make the work of those groups who want to steer an independent line, those who oppose the whole system, consistent democrats, and socialists, extremely important.
The protests, whatever their formal adherence to the campaign of Mousavi arise from the deep social changes which have been taking place Iran and the rise of political and "cultural" groups — not least the trade union movement — with different areas of concern from the demand for gender equality in the women's movement to people wanting freedom to produce rock music.
The Green Revolution has been called a “middle class” revolution and it is true that the demonstrations have taken place in the northern part of Tehran. But this should not be used (as it has been by some Stalinoid sections of the left) to undermine the protestors righteous mobilisation against the political system and defend the “anti-imperialist” Ahmadinejad. Seamus Milne, for instance, writing in the Guardian (18 June) condemns the western media’s focus on the opposition and castigates them for ignoring Ahmadinejad’s support among the proletariat in these terms: “… the western media, whose cameras focus so lovingly on Tehran’s guilded youth and for whom Ahmadinejad is nothing but a Holcaust-denying fanatic. The other Ahmadinejad, who is seen to stand up for the country’s independence, expose the elite corruption on TV and use Iran’s oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority is largely invisible abroad.”
Let us be clear, both Mousavi and Rafsanjani are disgusting pigs, who seek to line their own pockets, and boost their own power. But Ahmadinejad too, even if he has solid support among some sections of workers, is no friend of the workers. This is the regime which has systematically suppressed the trade unions.
On the other hand, those on the demonstration are our people, it is clear from the determination to fight, they understand that the electoral process and it’s result is secondary, is a populist sham, set up by the regime to politically manipulate the masses, that they need to fight for more, for full democratic and human rights.
What the Iranian regime fears most is what we advocate. That the workers, students, women and oppressed national minority activists will link up and begin to reshape society.
In the days of the Russian Tsarist dictatorship and in 1905 when there was an uprising against the Tsar, socialists and revolutionaries organised around the idea of a “Constituent Assembly”, that is a political body elected by an universal suffrage that could bring together the different oppressed groups (nationalities, workers, peasants) who were struggling to overthrow the dictatorship, a body that could help the broad mass movement to become more political conscious to overthrow the old order and work out new democratic structures. That idea could have some currency in Iran today.
On 26 June there will be a Global Solidarity Action Day to demand union rights for Iranian workers. At the end of last year the dictatorship arrested and jailed many union leaders (there was a simultaneous crackdown on Kurdish political activists). Mansour Osanloo, leader of Tehran's bus workers syndicate, is still in jail — he was sentenced to five years in July 2007. Whatever happens in the next days socialists in the west should a great effort into this building this. Workers’ Liberty supporters will be organising leafleting in London (see this website). We must help workers' component of the Iranian opposition movement survive and in the future grow much stronger.
Down with the clerical-fascist regime;
For a democratic secular republic;
Neither Mousavi nor Ahmedinejad but for a democratically elected assembly to decide a constitution for Iran;
Support the struggles of students and women for human rights;
Rights for the oppressed national minorities;
Solidarity with the workers of Iran!