Revolt against the Islamic Republic
Every week sees a new strike in Iran. The lives of many workers have been devastated by the neo-liberal policies of the reactionary clerical government. Since 10 June Iranian students have been protesting against religious dictatorship as well as plans to privatise higher education in Iran. They have been attacked by the security services and many have been arrested. Yassamine Mather from Workers' Left Unity Iran analyses the political background.
Twenty-three years after coming to power, the Iranian clergy presides over a country where abject poverty, drug addiction, and prostitution (including child prostitution) have become major social issues that threaten the fabric of Iranian society.
The gap between the rich and poor is wider than ever. Official statistics put unemployment at 16 per cent, but the real figure is much higher. Hundreds of thousands of workers haven't been paid for months, and government figures admit that more than 70 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.
The experience of reform from within, which began with Khatami's election, is considered a failure by both the supporters and the opponents of the Iranian president. The abysmal low turnout in recent local council elections was the nail in the coffin of reformist Islam in Iran. After more than two decades of fundamentalist rule, Iran has the largest secular opposition movement in the Middle East, as most people identify "religious" government as their main enemy.
Large numbers of workers who have not received any salaries for anything from six months to three years demonstrate regularly outside their workplaces. Millions of unemployed workers made redundant through mass privatisation (a policy demanded by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in return for billions of dollars of loans) are among the regime's most determined opponents. And the youth and women who have suffered from the interference of religion in every aspect of their private lives are increasingly dissident too.
Within the Islamic regime itself most of the battles of the last decade have been about the religious state's inability to deal with the current world economic order: on the one hand there are those who still believe in the rule of sharia. On the other those who have decided that the only way the regime can survive is if it establishes the rule of law in a free-market capitalist state.
The current president is of the latter party. His presidency has coincided with unfettered privatisation, as well as limited relaxation of the interference of religion in the private lives of the Iranian people.
Inevitably, other arguments typical of capitalist ruling circles (between statist reformers and laissez-faire evangelists) have also been aired in Iran's parliament, the Majlis. But in both economic and political spheres the first Islamic state has predominantly been and is increasingly becoming a capitalist dictatorship with strong nationalist and religious overtones.
Iran and the war
As it became clear that US-UK hostilities against Iraq would take the form of all-out war, Iran's Islamic government defined its foreign policy as one of "active neutrality". In reality, of course, Iran is anything but "neutral" about the war: the supporters of "regime change" in Iraq include many Iran-based Iraqi exiles; war might present Tehran's Shi'a allies with an opportunity to join the new administration in Baghdad; and Iran was one of the few countries in the region where the state made no attempt to organise an anti-war protest until after the war had begun (even then - 28 March - it was clear that many in Tehran were opposed to the demonstration).
Nevertheless, president Mohammad Khatami's chief strategist Said Hajjarian argued that since regime change in Iraq was inevitable Iran had to remain neutral so as to accomplish two goals: "that the next regime in Baghdad will not be hostile to Iran, and... that we are not [Washington's] next target".
Typically, the Iranian government has used rhetoric to condemn "US aggression" while holding extensive talks with the UK government regarding the details of regime change in a bid to ensure a role for its allies both inside Iraq proper and in Kurdish areas.
International isolation of the Iranian regime and unpopularity at home have left it with no choice, even in Kurdish areas.
Iran's "Islamic" foreign policy
Contrary those who believe it is "Third Worldist", the Islamic Republic of Iran's foreign policy was never anything other than a continuation of the Shah's pursuit of regional power. Over the last decade Iranian real politic has been dominated by highly nationalist competition with Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
To become a regional power, Iran pursues a pragmatic rather than an Islamist foreign policy. This is despite all the rhetoric we hear from its leaders. In pursuit of its fierce competition with Turkey, for example, Iran supported Christian Armenia against Muslim Azerbaijan - simply because Turkey backed the latter.
When Iran opposed the Taliban advances in Afghanistan, Tehran's propaganda talked of the Taliban giving a bad name to Islam. In reality, the defenders of Hezbollah in Lebanon could not have been too worried about the public image of Islam; the main concern was that Saudi and Pakistani money, competing with Iran for domination in Afghanistan, supported the Taliban. And Iran has kept contacts and reasonable relations with Israel, mainly because the enemy of its enemies (the Arabs) must be a friend.
Of course, Iranian leaders have made a great deal of their support for the deprived Muslims of the world. Given their total mistrust of Sunni groups, this has effectively amounted to support for a handful of Shi'a community groups in Lebanon, Iraq and Pakistan.
As far as Iran is concerned, and irrespective of how long the Islamic regime remains in power, we have come to the end of the road with Islamic fundamentalism. New diversions threaten genuine change. Bombarded with Western propaganda, the youth and sections of the women's movement have many illusions about "Western democracy".
Opposition figures - even among those claiming to be on the left - choose to forget that many of Iran's social and economic problems have more to do with the capitalist nature of the Iranian state in the current world order than its Islamic characteristics. These problems cannot be simply resolved with political change from above.
Irrespective of what follows, it is the responsibility of the left to use the experience of Iran's Islamic government to expose the failings of political Islam - both in the economic-social sphere (poverty, corruption, etc) and in the international arena (i.e., anti-Western rhetoric instead of genuine anti-imperialism).
And inside Iran we need to link anti-capitalist campaigns against unemployment, non-payment of salaries and destitution with daily struggles for freedom and democracy. It is essential to show that Iran's social, economic and political ills are interlinked, and that many of these problems are the inevitable consequences of the "new world order".
Solidarity calls on all readers to back the Iranian workers and students - by supporting the students' appeal (below) and in any other way they can. If some, or even many, of the students are "pro-Western", and if George W Bush supports them, that is secondary. Fundamentally this is a fight for democracy and freedom, and one that can link up with Iranian workers' battles against exploitation.
International Campaign in Defence of Iranian students
Workers Left Unity Iran have organised this statement of international support for students and lecturers in Iran and are asking trade unionists, student groups and individuals to sign up to it.
Since the 10th June 2003 Iranian students at Universities in Tehran, Isfahan, Ahvaz, Shirza have protested against religious dictatorship as well as plans to privatise higher education in Iran.
On a number of occasions protesters were attacked by the security services and religious clubwielders have imjured many students.
The International Campaign in Defence of Iranian students calls for :
- The immediate, unconditional release of all the students arrested in this and other protests.
- Condemn the continued harassment and detention of political activists in Iran and demand an end to the terror unleashed by the security forces.
- Strongly support the students' demands for freedom, against dictatorship and privatisation of higher education.
- Notes that the current struggles are not only against religious dictatorship but also against neo liberal economic policies.
- Calls on all political organisations, trade unions, political and cultural personalities, academics and scientists to join the international campaign to defend Iranian students and to actively protest at state sponsored repression in Iran.
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