Further street battles between Iranian pro-democracy protestors and the police are expected on 10-12 February, the anniversary of the 1979 revolution. In the latest protests, starting at the beginning of December, nine people were reported killed by the police.
Iranian leftists say the real figure is much higher. Future protests could be meet even more violent and bloody repression. The regime has just passed a law enabling political executions to take place within five days. Non-political prisoners have been released from jail to “clear the way” for oppositionists.
Will Ahmadinejad's regime fall? Will the Islamic regime itself be overthrown? Will the protest movement link up with Iran's beleaguered independent workers’ organisations? If revolution does happen, what kind of revolution will it be? And what should the Iranian workers do for themselves, what should they demand?
The December demonstrations differed from those after the fraudulent re-election of President Ahmadinejad in June 2009.
• The protests were more determined, fuelled by anger at political executions and the rape and torture of prisoners. A pattern of continuous date-setting and mobilisation is being set. December’s protests started with student demonstrations at the beginning of the month, continued after the funeral of reformist cleric Hussein-Ali Montazeri, and peaked on Sunday 27 December, coinciding with important Shi'a religious days.
• Protestors are less fearful, more willing to fight back against the police and the basij (volunteer vigilantes for the state).
• The protests have spread to many more cities outside Tehran.
• There are more working-class people on the streets.
• Slogans have been directed at the Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — that is, at the regime itself.
• Underlying economic conditions are also fuelling the protests. Inflation is higher than the official figure of 15%. The government is set to remove subsidies from staples including fuel. A further price hike will hit better off workers and the "middle class", who will not qualify for government compensation.
If this movement can overthrow it, and we must hope it can, it will in the first place be a political revolution led by one section of the Iranian ruling class against another.
Roughly, one section is grouped around the so-called “millionaire mullahs” and “reformist” Islamist-capitalist politicians, against the current ruling bloc, based on the capitalist property and wealth held by the Revolutionary Guard and the Iranian state itself and fronted up by the populist political organisation of Ahmadinejad.
The "reformist" ideologues remain deeply committed to an "Islamic Republic" as founded by the 1979 revolution and Khomeini. They do not think the clerics should disappear from the political scene, but only that they should have a different, more "advisory", role.
It is not inconceivable, especially if economic sanctions are imposed by the UN, and the "cold war" over Iran's enriched uranium intensifies, that the two ruling-class factions will make a deal.
But either way the "Islamic Republic" will have to deal with a mobilised population.
Wider social layers, and campaign networks with different political impulses, are represented in the broader movement on the streets, which was born in 1999 with student protests. But even as the protestors make their brave stand for "social justice" or for thoroughgoing human rights and democracy (however they define it), organised political leadership is dominated by the intra-capitalist conflict.
The reformists with their limited but clear programme — for such things as re-run elections, freedom of the press and the right to demonstrate — are a powerful force operating in an inchoate movement made up of various networks: cyber-run social networks, NGOs, student and women's rights and human rights organisations, and reformist political and religious groups. Those networks are popular and effective and organised, but, as one commentator put it, they look like (and are) more of a "flash mob" than a disciplined party.
Iranian liberals and human rights activists (see for instance www.gozaar.org) claim the “Green Movement” leadership — of Mohammad Khatami, Mehdi Karoubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi — is “accidental” and therefore has a limited organisational grip on the movement. But it is the only fully “formed” important political leadership. And some left forces like the Stalinist Tudeh Party are explicitly backing the "green" leadership.
The independently organised working-class movement (the unions and non-Stalinist socialists), the only social force which has the potential to create an overall society-wide alternative to Iranian reaction and capitalism, is very weak. While workers have protested and struck in the recent past against such things as the non-payment of wages, their strongest independent leaders, among the Tehran bus workers and the Haft Tapeh sugar workers, have been arrested and imprisoned. Because of the repression it is hard to gauge how decisive that repression is, and what reserve forces underground workers' movements have.
Experienced working-class activists will know where the reformist leaders stand in relation to the workers. They will remember Mousavi as Khomeiny's prime minister in the worst days of the war with Iraq, and they will remember how reformist Khatami, as president from 1997 to 2005, continued the absolute repression of the working-class in the factories and workplaces.
Behind the reformist leadership's ideology are capitalist interests and a deep hostility to the working-class. As Iranian academic Behzad Yaghmaian explains (about the reformists in 2002) "The official language of rights and participation excluded the wage earners as a specific group with a defined collective interest and rights. A civil society was to be built without the institutionalisation of workers' rights. The narrowness and limits of the official movement for civil society, and the neglect of wage earners and their independent institutions, resulted in the continuation of the old regime of labour at the point of production, and ultimately, fear and intimidation in the society at large."
Against Iranian "reformism" - that is, political Islamism in a different form, with its social programme of exploiting the workers — we want that Iranian socialists, though they are very isolated, to be able to argue clearly and effectively for the immediate, necessary, political fight — for the Islamic Republic to be smashed, not reformed, not even pushed to the limits of an Islamist definition, but completely dismantled.
In its place there needs to be a genuinely secular and consistently democratic political system that includes not only free speech and human rights but the workers' right to organise independently. In that fight for secular democracy, workers can organise independently, develop their economic struggles alongside the political, and grow strong enough to pose and win support for socialist aims.
Our job is to give solidarity against the repression, but also especially to help the workers and the socialists.