Two candidates stood in the Iranian
“elections”, but the regime had decided who was going to win long
before any votes were cast. In spite of the mild, “loyal opposition” of
Mousavi, large sections of the Iranian electorate used their vote to
express opposition to the regime. Once the “result” was announced
violence broke out on the streets, revealing the seething anger and
discontent among the masses. This marks a new phase in the development
of the Iranian revolution.
The French historian Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote that the most
dangerous moment for a bad government is when it tries to reform. But
it is even more dangerous when a bad regime refuses to reform.
knows many examples of a rotten autocracy, which after a long period in
power has succumbed to an irreversible process of inner decay. In such
a moment, all the internal contradictions that have remained hidden
beneath the surface suddenly emerge. There are always two main
tendencies: the hard liners and the reformists. The latter say: “we
must reform from the top or else we will be overthrown.” The former
say: “We must oppose reform because once we start change we will be
overthrown.” And both are correct.
What was true in France in 1789 is also true in Iran in 2009. After
three decades in power the regime of the mullahs is deeply unpopular.
Analysts therefore expected Mousavi, widely regarded as a “reformist”,
to do well. A presidential debate between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad
roused the nation, and in the last days Mousavi’s campaign caught fire,
triggering massive street rallies in Tehran. What these rallies showed
was a burning desire for change.
Mousavi had been widely expected to beat the controversial incumbent
if there was a high turnout ‑ or at least do well enough to trigger a
second round. What officials have called an unprecedented voter turnout
at the polls Friday had been expected to boost Mousavi’s chances of
winning the presidency. The voter turnout surpassed 80 percent, at
least two officials said on Saturday.
Iran’s economic turmoil over the past four years should have
undermined Ahmadinejad’s support even in rural areas to some extent.
Yet the government announced that Ahmadinejad had not only won the
election, but had secured a landslide with 62.63 percent of the vote as
compared to Mir Hossein Mousavi’s 33.75 percent. According to the
results, which were announced with indecent haste, Mousavi even lost in
the area of Teheran where he has his main base. This virtuoso display
of vote rigging was so blatant that it shocked even a people for whom
such things could be regarded as normal practice.
The speed with which the announcement was made was in itself
sufficient to indicate a massive fraud. Iran remains a predominantly
rural country with an infrastructure that does not permit such a rapid
assessment of election results. In a genuine election it would take
several days to get all the results in from the provinces and villages
and remote areas. Instead, Ahmadinejad immediately announced that he
had won by a big majority. "The people of Iran inspired hope for all
nations and created a source of pride in the nation and disappointed
all the ill wishers," Ahmadinejad said in a nationwide TV address
Saturday night. "This election was held at a juncture of history."
a despotic regime that holds all the reins of power firmly in its
hands, it is not a difficult task to rig an election. After the polls
closed – according to reports coming out of Iran ‑ heavily armed
Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were out on the streets. In one area
of north Tehran, a stronghold of opposition challenger and reformist
ex-Prime Minister Mousavi, foreign journalists reported a convoy of at
least fifteen military vehicles filled with armed guards making their
way along the side of the road. The Interior Ministry was also blocked
and heavily guarded as the regime feared that Mousavi supporters might
gather there to protest against the election count.
Ibrahim Yazdi, a leading Iranian dissident and Iran’s foreign
minister in the early days of the Islamic Republic, told American
journalist Robert Dreyfuss:
“Many of us believe that the election was rigged. Not only Mousavi.
We don’t have any doubt. And as far as we are concerned, it is not
legitimate. There were many, many irregularities. They did not permit
the candidates to supervise the election or the counting of the ballots
at the polling places. The minister of the interior announced that he
would oversee the final count in his office, at the ministry, with only
two aides present.
“In previous elections, they announced the results in each district,
so people could follow up and make a judgment about the validity of the
figures. In 2005, there were problems: in one district there were about
100,000 eligible voters, and they announced a total vote of 150,000.
This time they didn’t even release information about each particular
“In all, there were about 45,000 polling places. There were 14,000
mobile ones, that can move from place to place. Many of us protested
that. Originally, these mobile polling places were supposed to be used
in hospitals and so on. This time, they were used in police stations,
army bases, and various military compounds. When it comes to the
military compounds and so on, if even 500 extra votes were put into
each of the 14,000 boxes, that is seven million votes.
“Mousavi and Karroubi [the main opposition candidates] had earlier
established a joint committee to protect the peoples’ votes. Many young
people volunteered to work on that committee. But the authorities
didn’t let it happen. Last night [that is, election night] the security
forces closed down that committee. There is no way, independent of the
government and the Guardian Council, to verify the results.”
With a rigged election result in his pocket Ahmadinejad’s insolence
knew no bounds. The president said the elections were the "model of
democracy" and accused "western oppressors" of criticizing the election
process. "On Friday’s election, the people of Iran emerged victorious,"
he declared. "The elections in Iran are really important. Election
means consensus of all people’s resolve and their crystallization of
their demands and their wants, and it’s a leap toward high peaks of
aspiration and progress. Elections in Iran are [a] totally
popular-based move that belongs to the people with a look at the
future, aimed at constructing the future."
He indicated progress through consensus, saying economic and
infrastructure reforms can be accomplished in Iran through a collective
process. "All of us can join forces," he said, as his armed thugs were
smashing people’s faces on the streets. Tens of thousands of
flag-waving Ahmadinejad supporters gathered in the capital’s Valiasr
Square for the president’s victory speech this evening, as he attempted
a show of force he hopes will quell opposition protests.
"The 12 June election was an artistic expression of the nation,
which created a new advancement in the history of elections in the
country," the ayatollah Khamenei said. "The over 80 percent
participation of the people and the 24 million votes cast for the
president-elect is a real celebration which with the power of almighty
God can guarantee the development, progress, national security, and the
joy and excitement of the nation."
The nation was certainly excited – but not for joy. Reformist
candidate Mehdi Karrubi called the declared results of the elections a
"joke" and "astonishing." Even while Ahmadinejad praised the result and
the huge turnout, Mousavi and supporters in the Tehran streets were
crying foul as street clashes broke out. On Saturday afternoon the
streets of the capital are generally quiet. But last Saturday
spontaneous street demonstrations erupted on the streets of Tehran.
This reflected an enormous accumulation of anger, despair, and
bitterness within Iranian society that is pregnant with revolutionary
indicated that Iranians should take a deep breath in the aftermath of
the vote. "The Saturday after the election should always be a day of
affection and patience," he said. "Both the supporters of the elected
candidate and the supporters of other respectable candidates should
refrain from making any provocative and doubtful behaviour. The
respectable president-elect is the president of all the people of Iran
and everybody, including yesterday’s rivals, should protect and help
him." These words from the Supreme Leader showed the regime’s fear of
public disturbances. They were not wrong to have such fear.
Demonstrators chanted, "the president is committing a crime and the
supreme leader is supporting him", highly inflammatory language in a
regime where the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is considered
irreproachable. Shops, government offices and businesses closed early
as tension mounted. Crowds also gathered outside Mousavi’s headquarters
but there was no sign of Ahmadinejad’s chief political rival.
Supporters waved their fists and chanted anti-Ahmadinejad slogans.
Protesters set fire to rubbish bins and tyres, creating pillars of
black smoke among the apartment blocks and office buildings in central
Tehran. An empty bus was engulfed in flames on a side road. Police
fought back with clubs, including mobile squads on motorcycles swinging
truncheons, as protesters hurled stones and bottles at officers,
shouting "Mousavi, give us our votes back" and "the election was full
More than 100 reformists, including Mohammad Reza Khatami, the
brother of former president Mohammad Khatami, were arrested, according
to leading reformist Mohammad Ali Abtahi. He told Reuters they were
members of Iran’s leading reformist party, Mosharekat. A judiciary
spokesman denied they had been arrested but said they were summoned and
"warned not to increase tension" before being released. The state
imprisons and tortures trade unionists and beats up students, but
bourgeois politicians get off with just a slap on the wrist.
leaned out of windows and balconies to watch the throngs of protesters
march, many of whom were Mousavi supporters and conducted largely noisy
but peaceful demonstrations. Later in the evening, an agitated and
angry crowd emerged in Tehran’s Moseni Square, with people breaking
into shops, starting fires and tearing down signs. Two groups of people
faced off against each other in the square, throwing rocks and bottles
and shouting angrily. Observers believe the two sides could be
supporters of Ahmadinejad on the one hand, and Mousavi on the other.
The protests, which were clearly spontaneous, were not limited to
Teheran. They also broke out in other cities, including Tabriz,
Orumieh, Hamedan and Rasht. It is clear that nobody organized these
protests, and least of all the reformist leaders. The new technology
has been a key tactic in politically mobilizing young people in Iran,
but text messaging has not been working in Iran over recent days and
Facebook was closed down. However, the old fashioned method of word of
mouth still functions and Iranian protesters still arrived en masse at
meeting places around Tehran on Saturday.
On Sunday the rioting continued. "There was this cat-and-mouse game
between the rioters and the police," said Samson Desta, a CNN reporter,
who was hit by a police baton. "For the time being, it seems like
police have things under control. But we spoke to a lot of students and
they’re saying, ‘This is not going to go away. They may stop us now but
we will come back and make sure our voices will be heard’."
This was the second day of protests in Tehran. On Saturday,
thousands of demonstrators shouting "Death to the dictatorship" and "We
want freedom" burned police motorcycles, tossed rocks through store
windows, and set trash cans on fire.
On Sunday night a tense calm settled on the streets of Tehran, but
the BBC’s Jon Leyne, in the city, reported that clashes broke out by
the office of Irna, Iran’s official news agency, and also in at least
one suburb. There were also new reports of a clampdown on independent
media. The offices of the Saudi-funded Arabic TV station al-Arabiya
were shut down for "unknown reasons", the channel said. Mobile phone
service was restored but there were reports that text messaging
remained restricted and curbs continued on access to popular internet
sites, including the BBC. These actions do not show confidence but an
extreme nervousness on the part of the regime.
Hypocrisy of imperialists
Reaction emerged across the world, as countries such as the United
States and Canada voiced concern over claims of voter irregularities.
But the western governments who have been so outspoken in their
criticism of the lack of human rights in Iran have been remarkably
circumspect about the blatant electoral fraud and violence in Iran.
to a CNN report, US military commanders in the Middle East were sent a
message reminding American forces to maintain discipline and prudence
if they encounter any Iranian military forces during potential unrest
surrounding Iran’s presidential election. US military concerns are
taking into account "heightened Iranian sensitivity and maybe even fear
for potential internal and external security threats," one official
Criticism in Washington has been unusually muted. Hilary Clinton has
kept her mouth shut, leaving it to “the invisible man”, US
vice-president, Joe Biden, to express his “doubts” about "the way
they’re suppressing crowds, the way in which people are being treated",
although, using guarded language, he said the US had to accept "for the
time being" Tehran’s claim that Ahmadinejad won a resounding
re-election. "There’s an awful lot of questions about how this election
was run," said Biden. "We don’t have enough facts to make a firm
The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said that his
government was worried about the situation and criticized "the somewhat
brutal reaction" by authorities in response to demonstrations. The EU
said in a statement it was "concerned about alleged irregularities"
during Friday’s vote.
This polite reticence of the imperialists is no accident. They are
terrified of a revolution in Iran that will act like an earthquake
throughout the Middle East and Asia. Moreover, Washington is hoping to
re-establish good relations with the Teheran government, whose
assistance they need to ensure an orderly retreat from Iraq and provide
a guaranteed route for supplies to Afghanistan. It also needs Iranian
support for its latest “peace initiative” over the Palestinian
question. At least it would like assurances that Teheran will not
sabotage it – although Netanyahu is already making a good job of that
by insisting that any Palestinian state must be disarmed and renounce
the right of return for the Palestinian Diaspora.
It is these factors that determine Obama’s conciliatory policy to the Islamic Republic, which we predicted in advance [see The invasion of Gaza: what does it mean?].
A week into his presidency, Obama extended an olive branch to Tehran,
asking the regime to “unclench its fist”. Two months later, Obama
broadcast a message to Iran, for the first time recognizing the
ayatollahs as the legitimate representatives of the Iranian people.
Last month, Obama acknowledged the Islamic Republic’s right to enrich
uranium and, in Cairo, he admitted CIA involvement in the overthrow of
the Mossadegh government more than a half-century ago.
The people of Iran have long memories and know enough about
imperialism to hate it with all their heart. When Prime Minister
Mossadegh was ousted in the 1953 coup organized by the CIA and British
intelligence the so-called western democracies replaced Iranian
democracy with the monstrous dictatorship Shah. His bloody and corrupt
rule was based on a reign of mass terror in which the notorious Savak
secret police carried on a systematic campaign of murder and torture.
The so-called western democracies supported this despotic puppet of
imperialism and had nothing to say about the wholesale violation of
human rights in Iran then. That is why Iranians have no reason to trust
the good will of imperialism or listen to its hypocritical sermons on
Splits in regime
After the election Teheran was buzzing with rumours of a coup
d’etat. But in reality this is not necessary. Ahmadinejad has already
gathered so much power in his hands that he has already established a
dictatorship in fact, if not legally. In addition to the regular forces
of the state, he controls the Revolutionary Guard,
which he used to brutally crush the demonstrations last weekend.
Ahmadinejad controls the ministry of the interior, the ministry of
information, the ministry of intelligence.
the elections the security forces occupied the offices of many
newspapers, to make sure that their reporting on the election was
favourable. They changed headlines of many papers. This is an excellent
way of ensuring good election coverage! The Guards are taking over
everything, including many economic institutions. The ministry of the
interior is tightening its control in all the provinces.
There are also rumours that Ahmadinejad is thinking about changing
the Constitution to allow the president to serve more than two terms,
to make his presidency more or less permanent. He is re-enacting the
coup of Louis Bonaparte, who combined fraudulent elections and
parliamentary intrigues with a reign of terror on the streets conducted
by the notorious Society of 10 December, composed of thugs, criminals
and lumpenproletarians. His social base is also similar: the backward
peasantry, which can be used against the more advanced cities and towns.
In theory the situation looks hopeless. But this is only on the
surface. Ahmadinejad and his followers have been kept in office, but
the election has left Iran’s capital steeped in bitterness and anger.
The new government will be faced with serious problems at all levels,
particularly the economy. The last remaining illusions of the peasantry
will be shattered by the hardships imposed by the economic crisis.
In the last period, Ahmadinejad was kept in power partly on the
basis of repression and anti-American demagogy but mainly by using
Iran’s oil wealth for populist measures. This ensured him a certain
base of support in the population, especially among the peasantry. But
now the economic crisis and the falling price of oil will reduce his
room for manoeuvre on this front. On the other hand, the
“anti-imperialist” demagogy is wearing thin. People cannot eat nuclear
The history of dictatorial and autocratic regimes shows that it is
impossible to maintain such a regime on the basis of repression alone.
Once the masses start to move, no state apparatus, no matter how
powerful or ferocious, can stop them. That is the lesson of France in
1789, of tsarist Russia in 1917 and of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Louis
Bonaparte took power in a coup and stayed in power for two decades. But
in the end his rule ended in the Paris Commune. Ahmadinejad will not be
in power for so long for the reasons we have explained, and the longer
he clings to power, the more explosive the situation will become and
the sharper will be the internal contradictions in the regime.
Despite the show of strength, the inner cracks that are splitting
the regime are deepening. There are voices in the establishment that
are challenging Ahmadinejad. And it is not clear that he and the Sepah
(the Revolutionary Guard) will be strong enough to overcome them. The
Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is playing the Bonaparte,
balancing between the factions. There will be clashes and splits
between different factions that reflect a deep crisis of the regime
In the interview we have already mentioned, Ibrahim Yazdi refers to the splits in the regime:
“After the last election , after Ahmadinejad was first
elected, there were many questions raised about Ahmadinejad’s effort to
isolate the Leader. We talked openly about this. This time, in
preparation for the vote, they isolated him even further. For instance,
in years past [former President] Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was
influential, perhaps even more influential than the leader. Now, with
the slogans being used at Ahmadinejad’s rallies, things like ‘Death to
Hashemi!’, they have created a deep rift. Khamenei has also lost the
support of many high-ranking members of the clergy.”
Cowardice of reformers
The liberal reformers in Iran and abroad are sunk in the depths of
despair. Mousavi has pledged to fight the verdict, using words like
"tyranny" and adding, "I will not surrender to this dangerous charade."
Even before the vote count ended, Mousavi issued a sharply worded
letter urging the counting to stop because of "blatant violations" and
lashed out at what he indicated was an unfair process.
The opposition leader said the results from "untrustworthy monitors"
reflects "the weakening of the pillars that constitute the sacred
system" of Iran and "the rule of authoritarianism and tyranny."
Independent vote monitors were banned from polling places. "The results
announced for the 10th presidential elections are astonishing. People
who stood in long lines and knew well who they voted for were utterly
surprised by the magicians working at the television and radio
broadcasting," Mousavi said in his statement.
Mousavi’s newspaper, Kalemeh Sabz, or the Green Word, did not appear
on newsstands today. An editor speaking anonymously said authorities
had been upset with Mousavi’s statements. The paper’s website reported
that more than 10million votes in Friday’s election were missing
national identification numbers, which made the votes "untraceable".
his supporters took to the streets of the capital again to face the
batons and tear gas, Hossein Mousavi has launched a formal appeal
against the election result. He has appealed to the ruling Council of
Guardians to overturn the result, and urged his supporters to continue
protests "in a peaceful and legal way”. “We have asked officials to let
us hold a nationwide rally to let people display their rejection of the
election process and its results," said Mousavi. The Council of
Guardians is a constitutionally mandated body of six clerics and six
jurists, which functions as Iran’s electoral authority and has other
powers. But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the Supreme Leader and he has
already stated that the election had been conducted fairly and ordered
the three defeated candidates and their supporters to avoid
The mass demonstration planned by the opposition to protest
electoral fraud has been banned. Therefore, the road to redress by
legal and constitutional means is blocked. The only way to conquer
democratic rights in Iran is by taking the revolutionary road. Iran,
says Mousavi, "belongs to the people and not cheaters." There is even
talk of his calling a general strike. But words are cheap, and the
Iranian bourgeois reformist leaders would be more afraid of a movement
of the masses than Khamenei himself.
Role of the working class
Like the Russian Cadets, the liberal reformers in Iran are terrified
of revolution. Ibrahim Yazdi told his American interviewer: “Certainly,
we are concerned about spontaneous reactions. Iran’s youth has been
engaged and mobilized. Around the country, there have already been some
violent clashes. We do not agree with violence, because violence will
only give the Right an excuse to suppress the opposition.” And again:
“We are nor after subversion. We do not want to change the
Constitution. We do want to create a viable political force that can
exert its influence.” These words indicate the real psychology of the
bourgeois reformers in Iran. They could have been copied from any
newspaper of the Russian Liberals in February 1917.
The real historical analogy, however, is not Russia in 1917 but
rather 1905, or even before that. Like the Russian Revolution before
1905, the Iranian Revolution is still in its infancy. It has a long way
to run, and this is not a bad thing from the standpoint of the Iranian
Marxists who need time to build their forces. Like the Russian workers
before 1905, the Iranian working class is mainly young and
inexperienced. The old generation of worker activists, who were mainly
formed in the school of Stalinism, has largely disappeared, decimated
by repression and disoriented by the false policies of their leaders.
It will require time and the experiences, both of victories and
defeats, before the Iranian working class comes to the conclusion of
the need to take power. Let us recall that in January 1905 the young
Russian proletariat first came on the scene of history in a peaceful
demonstration led by a priest, with religious icons in their hands,
carrying a petition to the tsar. But one bloody clash was sufficient to
impel them on the road to revolution in the space of 24 hours. We can
expect similar sudden and sharp changes in Iran.
The campaign of Mousavi aroused the hopes of many people, especially
the middle class youth and the women (he promised more rights for
women). Now these hopes have been dashed. The police and “revolutionary
guards” have given the youth an excellent lesson in the value of
Iranian democracy with truncheons, fists and boots. The situation
remains explosive. But in the absence of a clear programme, perspective
and leadership, aimless street protests and rioting leads nowhere.
Therefore probably the present wave of unrest will die down for a
while. But it will come back with even greater violence at a later
The reformers are weeping and wailing about the election defeat, but
in reality these elections have solved nothing for the Iranian people,
the working class or the regime itself. This decrepit regime is like
the Old Man of the Sea who climbed onto the shoulders of Sinbad and
refused to dismount. These elections are just one more lesson in the
hard school of life, which will eventually convince the workers and
youth that in order to shake the Old Man of the Sea from off their
backs very radical measures will be necessary.
The real weakness of the movement for democracy is that the powerful
Iranian proletariat has not yet moved in a decisive way as it did in
1979. After long years of repression during which the workers movement
was effectively beheaded, the working class needs time to find its
feet. Like an athlete who has been inactive for a long time, the
Iranian workers need to stretch their muscles and engage in exercise
before moving decisively into action. There have already been many
strikes on economic issues. The pressure from below is building up.
This pressure finds its reflection even in the Labour House, the
organization set up by the regime to control the workers. In the recent
period the official journal of the Labour House even published an
article by Lenin. How times are changing!
Iran is an overwhelmingly young country. Its population has a median
age of 27. These people cannot remember a time when the mullahs were
not in power. Long ago the mullahs were considered to be incorruptible,
in contrast to the degenerate pro-western monarchy. But that was long
ago. After decades in power the mullahs have been exposed as corrupt
and the regime is losing the authority it used to have. Ahmadinejad had
to bus in supporters from the villages in order to stage his mass
rally. His real base is the Revolutionary Guards, but even they no
longer inspire the kind of terror they did in the past. The most
significant thing about the riots this weekend was not that they were
suppressed, but that so many people were prepared to come onto the
streets to defy the state and its repressive forces. This means that
the days of the regime are numbered.
In the end it will result in a crisis. This will be a government of
crisis, which will probably not last its full term. The political and
social divisions inside Iran will be widened. The militancy of the
workers will grow and express itself first in economic strikes for
better wages and conditions, as we have already seen in the past few
years, and later as political strikes and demonstrations. The most
urgent need now is to organize the workers and provide the movement
with a coherent programme, policy and banner. This can only be the red
banner of socialism.
It is quite natural that the students are playing a key role at this
stage in the revolution. It is very similar to the situation in Russia
in 1901-3, or in Spain in 1930-31, just before the fall of the
monarchy. Trotsky wrote at that time:
“When the bourgeoisie consciously and stubbornly refuses to take
upon itself the solution of the tasks flowing from the crisis in
bourgeois society; when the proletariat appears to be still unprepared
to undertake the solution of these tasks itself, then the proscenium is
often occupied by the students … The revolutionary or
semi-revolutionary activities of the students mean that bourgeois
society is passing through a deep crisis…
“The Spanish workers displayed an entirely correct revolutionary
instinct when they lent their support to the manifestations of the
students. It is understood that they must do it under their own banner
and under the leadership of their own proletarian organization. This
must be guaranteed by Spanish Communism, and for that it needs a
“This road pre-supposes on the part of the Communists a decisive,
bold and energetic struggle for democratic slogans. Not to understand
this would be the greatest mistake of sectarianism… If the
revolutionary crisis is transformed into a revolution it will
inevitably exceed the bourgeois boundaries, and in the event of
victory, will have to transfer the power to the proletariat.” (Trotsky,
Problems of the Spanish Revolution, May 1930)
The forces of the Iranian Marxists are small but they are growing by
the day. By skilfully combining democratic demands with transitional
demands linking the day to day struggles with the idea of socialist
revolution, they will connect with an increasingly broad layer of
workers and students who are looking for a fundamental change in
society. The future of Iran lies on the revolutionary road, and the
Iranian revolution is destined to shake the world.
June 15, 2009. First posted on www.marxist.com
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