The stormy street demonstrations in Iran are continuing and
gathering strength. Anti-government protesters held another big rally
in central Tehran today (Wednesday), which, to judge from photographs
we have just received, has dwarfed even the massive demonstrations of
the last few days. It defied renewed calls from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
the Supreme Leader, to keep off the streets. Faced with vast protests,
the ruling regime in Tehran is being pulled in opposite directions.
on Tuesday, Ayatollah Khamenei met representatives of the four
candidates who ran in Friday’s election and urged them to maintain
calm. He said no one should do anything that creates tension and all
should clearly state that tensions and riots are not their demands. He
said that if there was a need to recount some ballot boxes, this should
be done in the presence of representatives of candidates. But the
protesters are not heeding the calls.
The government, clearly nervous, has been clamping down on all
information tools, including text messaging, social networking sites,
and other internet outlets, in an effort to prevent the opposition from
organising rallies. But a further sign of the divisions in Iran’s
leadership is the fact that the interior ministry ordered an
investigation into an attack on university students which they say was
carried out by militia and police. It came a day after Iran’s
influential speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, condemned the assault
on the dormitory of Tehran University.
The demonstrations are meeting with sympathy from the population.
There were, however, further signs of a crackdown today. Human rights
groups said at least 100 people had been arrested in the city of
Tabriz, a historic centre of protest and a Mousavi stronghold.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor general of the central province of Isfahan
warned that those behind post-election unrest could face the death
penalty under Islamic law.
There were also unconfirmed reports that Mohammad Asgari, who was
responsible for the security of the IT network in Iran’s interior
ministry, was killed yesterday in a suspicious car accident in Tehran.
Asgari had reportedly leaked evidence that the elections were rigged to
alter the votes from the provinces. Asgari was said to have leaked
information that showed Mousavi had won with almost 19m votes, and
should therefore be president.
The (Counter-) Revolutionary Guard said that news websites and blogs
were encouraging rioting by spreading lies and fake allegations and
organising unrest. These “illegal” acts, they said, were disrupting
public order. The Guard said these “organised centres” were supported
by American and Canadian companies and media affiliated to US and
British intelligence services. This clumsy attempt to link the protests
with US imperialism is too stupid to require comment. The problem the
authorities face is precisely that these protests have no “organizing
centre” that can be arrested. The spontaneous character of the movement
is both its greatest source of strength and its greatest weakness.
Eye witness accounts
Ahmadinejad’s supporters are desperately striving to mobilize. They
held their own demonstration in Val-y-Asr Square. The television showed
what was clearly an organized affair, with masses of people bussed in
from outside Teheran. Many of the demonstrators were middle aged, and
they seemed to lack the fire and determination of their rivals. It
seemed a routine affair, with predictable slogans on the banners:
“Death to the Traitor”, “Death to anyone who is against the Supreme
Leader” and so on.
The official media dutifully carried reports of this pro-regime
demonstration. But not a word was said of Monday’s opposition mass
rally, or of the street demonstrations in the cities of Shiraz, Mashad,
Babol and Tabriz. Most Iranians have no knowledge of these events;
thanks to the indefatigable labour of Ahmadinejad’s censors.
In today’s The Independent there is an article entitled
“Fear has gone in a land that has tasted freedom” by Robert Fisk. He
has provided us with an interesting eye witness account of the
behaviour of the Iranian Special Forces when confronted with two
hostile demonstrations of protesters and Ahmadinejad’s Revolutionary
“‘Please, please, keep the Basiji from us,’ one middle-aged lady
pleaded with a special forces officer in flak jacket and helmet as the
Islamic Republic’s thug-like militia appeared in their camouflage
trousers and purity-white shirts only a few metres away. The cop smiled
at her. ‘With God’s help,’ he said. Two other policemen were lifted
shoulder-high. ‘Tashakor, tashakor,’ – ‘thank you, thank you’ – the
crowd roared at them.
“This was phenomenal. The armed special forces of the Islamic
Republic, hitherto always allies of the Basiji, were prepared for once,
it seemed, to protect all Iranians, not just Ahmadinejad’s henchmen.
The precedent for this sudden neutrality is known to everyone – it was
when the Shah’s army refused to fire on the millions of demonstrators
demanding his overthrow in 1979.”
This remarkable report, together with yesterday’s report from the
same journalist, shows the degree to which the hot breath of Revolution
has affected the morale of the armed forces, even the elite Special
Forces. This is a most disturbing development for the regime, which
must be receiving daily and hourly reports that cast doubt on its
ability to rely on the armed forces to put down the movement. This is
indeed reminiscent of 1979!
Fisk describes an extraordinary scene when the two demonstrations confronted each other:
“Plain-clothes cops – perhaps at last realising the gravity of a
situation which their own obedience to Ahmadinejad’s men had brought
about – persuaded middle-aged men from both sides to meet in the centre
of the road in the middle of Vanak Square’s narrow no-man’s-land. The
Mousavi man, in a brown shirt, placed his hands around the arms of the
bearded Iranian official from the Ahmadinejad side. ‘We cannot allow
this to happen,’ he told him. And he tried, as any Muslim does when he
wants to show his desire for trust and peace, to kiss the side of his
opponent’s face. The bearded man physically shook him off, screaming
abuse at him.
“The two rows of police were now standing shoulder to shoulder,
their linked arms holding both mobs back, as they stared at their own
comrades opposite with ever increasing concern. An American-Iranian a
few metres away, shouted at me in English that ‘we’ve got to prove they
can’t do this anymore. They can’t rule us. We need a new president.
Either they get their way or we get ours’.
“It was frightening, the absolute conviction of these men, the total
refusal to accept any compromise, one side demanding obedience to the
words of Ayatollah Khomeini and loyalty to the ghosts of the 1980-88
Iran-Iraq war, the other – emboldened by their million-strong march on
Monday – demanding freedoms, albeit within an Islamic Republic, which
they had never had before. Maybe they now have the police on their
side; if last night’s example was anything to go by, either some senior
officer – or perhaps the cops themselves, appalled at their behaviour
over the past four days – decided that the special forces would no
longer be patsies to the frightening power of Ahmadinejad’s ever-loyal
“Yet this is not a revolution to overthrow the Islamic Republic.
Both sets of demonstrators were shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ – ‘God is
Great’ – at Vanak Square last night. But if the Iranian security forces
are now taking the middle ground, then Ahmadinejad is truly in trouble.”
In January 1905 the Russian proletariat made its first appearance on
the stage of history, carrying in its hands icons and images of the
Virgin Mary. This reflected the heavy burden of the past, a thousand
years of stagnant life in the villages, where vodka and the Church were
the only forms of relief from the terrible drudgery of hard toil and
exploitation. When the Russian peasant left the land in search of a
better life in the towns, he was hurled into the seething cauldron of
factory life, which revolutionized his outlook. The religious
prejudices remained, but that did not prevent the Russian workers from
taking the revolutionary road. Nor will it in Iran.
Fisk also reports on the contradictions that are emerging even in the Ahmadinejad camp:
“As the fume-filled dusk fell over the north Tehran streets, the
crowds grew wilder. I listened to a heavily bearded Basiji officer
exhorting his men to assault the 10,000 Mousavi men and women on the
other side of the police line. ‘We must defend our country now, just as
we did in the Iran-Iraq war,’ he shouted above the uproar. But the
Ahmadinejad man trying to calm him down, shouted back: ‘We are all
fellow citizens! Let’s not have a tragedy. We must have unity.’”
Only hours earlier, seven men killed by the Basiji at the end of
Monday’s march, were secretly buried by police in Cemetery 257 in
unmarked graves. No word has been sent to their families of their fate.
In what must be an unprecedented step, the pro-government newspapers in
Tehran have reported the deaths of the demonstrators. One even gave its
front page to the outraged condemnation of Tehran University’s
Chancellor at the Basiji invasion of the campus on Sunday night, when
the security forces killed seven young men, wounded several others and
smashed and looted the university dormitories. Farhad Rabar said he
would pursue the killers through the courts, adding that “the invasion
of the University of Tehran, which is the symbol of higher education…
has caused a wave of sorrow and anger in me”.
Later Fisk writes:
“It was on my way out of Val-y-Asr that I noticed a truckload of
men, all dressed in camouflage trousers and white shirts, many carrying
police clubs, setting off to north Tehran. They were followed by the
newly energised Islamist demonstrators, off on the four-mile trek up to
Vanak. Two conscript soldiers were standing amid the Mousavi supporters
there when an old man asked their advice. Should he stay if the Basijis
break through the cordon? ‘The Basijis beat people hard – very hard,’
one of the soldiers said. And he patted the old man on the shoulder and
shook his head.”
Small incidents like these are worth a hundred statistics in showing the real dynamic of the movement.
In his History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky wrote:
“If you look only backward to past ages, the transfer of power to
the bourgeoisie seems sufficiently regular: in all past revolutions who
fought on the barricades were workers, apprentices, in part students,
and the soldiers came over to their aside. But afterwards the solid
bourgeoisie, having cautiously watched the barricades through their
windows, gathered up the power.” (The Paradox of the February Revolution)
This is a story that is constantly repeated throughout history. The
revolutionary masses do the fighting and dying, and the bourgeois
Liberals and unprincipled professional politicians reap the fruits of
power and betray the masses who handed the power to them. But the
experience of the October Revolution shows that such an outcome is not
inevitable. What is required is a revolutionary party like the
Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky.
Of course, the masses cannot wait until the Marxists are ready. When
the Party is lacking and the unbearable problems of the masses demand
an urgent solution, they will move into action and attempt to solve
their problems by direct action. Sometimes this can sweep all before
it, leading to the downfall of the old hated regime. But in such case,
the fruits of power will be snatched from their hands. This is what is
being prepared in Iran. If the old regime cannot maintain itself with
the old methods (and the reports quoted here indicate strongly that
this is the case), they will resort to other methods.
The state does not only rely on open repression. It can resort to
manoeuvres and trickery to deceive and defeat the revolutionary people.
The protesters have demonstrated a colossal revolutionary potential.
The masses have shown tremendous courage, militancy and determination.
But the spontaneous mass movement also has a weak side. It lacks a
courageous and far-sighted leadership. The regime, which is fighting
for its life, possesses equal determination. It holds in its hands all
the levers of power.
The masses have now had an intoxicating taste of freedom. Brought to
their feet, they have learned to ignore the threat of state repression
and to disregard and despise the clerical autocracy which in the past
has terrified, oppressed and humiliated them. They have lost their fear
now that they are confronting their political enemies in the street
with courage, defiance, and even a strange sense of humour. If they had
a half-decent leadership, they could take power without too much
difficulty. But without a clear perspective, the initiative can swing
the other way.
The leading role in these demonstrations has been played by the
students, who also played a crucial role in bringing down the Shah in
1979. These courageous young people have shown great determination and
ingenuity, using the power of modern telecommunications. But if the
protests, which have primarily been in Tehran, are to succeed, they
must spread to the whole country. If this were to happen, the momentum
they generate could prove unstoppable.
At this moment, the situation is in the balance. The next few days
will be decisive. It is possible that the regime, in an act of
desperation, will strike out blindly, like a wounded animal. It may be
that one of the mass demonstrations could end in a massacre, or that
the attacks on student dormitories will end in tragedy. In the present
electric atmosphere, this can spark off a wave of strikes and
demonstrations that can lead to the overthrow of the government. Such
an outcome would be the result of the victory of the hard-line faction
that seeks to hold onto power by violent means.
If, however, the reformist wing of the ruling bureaucracy succeeds
in convincing the ayatollahs that their best hope of saving themselves
is to introduce cosmetic changes from the top to prevent revolution
from below, a different outcome is possible. The masses cannot
demonstrate on the streets forever. Either the movement is carried onto
a qualitatively higher level through a general strike and a national
insurrection, or eventually it will ebb and fall into uneasy quiescence
– for a while.
In the murky power-struggle within the Islamic regime, the different
factions are fighting like cats in a sack. But none of them wants a
real change. Mousavi is no anti-regime revolutionary and has no
interest in leading an all-out struggle against the regime that he
served as a conservative prime minister through the Iran-Iraq war. He
is a member of the conservative clique of Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
The hardliners are resisting all change, although they have been
forced onto the defensive by the furious assault of the masses. Now
they will be bargaining like bazaaris with Rafsanjani (an expert at haggling for high office). They will try to reach some
kind of deal that they hope will put an end to the protests. It is
possible that the regime will ensure its survival by cutting President
Ahmadinejad’s down to size and forcing him to give some kind of
government role to Mousavi in the name of “national unity”. Such an
outcome would cause bitter disappointment in the masses, who, after a
period of violent exertions, may fall into temporary apathy.
The masses can only learn from their experience, and it will be
necessary for them to go through the experience of another “reformist”
government in order for them to understand the real character of these
leaders, who wish to change only the names and faces without changing
anything substantial. The lull that would follow a sell-out would not
last for long. The severity of the economic crisis does not permit any
lasting stability. Sooner or later there will be a new wave of strikes
and demonstrations that will be on a much higher level than this time.
Such a fraudulent result would be a betrayal of the passionate
aspirations of the masses for freedom and democracy. But it would be
very welcome to the imperialists in general and the Obama
Administration in particular. Washington has been very muted in
expressing its “concerns” about the reports of violence and
vote-rigging. At no time has it expressed support for the
demonstrators. That is because Obama has no interest a serious change
US imperialism will be seriously worried about the extraordinary
events of recent days. They will be afraid that the revolutionary
overthrow of the mullahs will set an example that can tempt the masses
in Iran’s neighbours to try to do the same. Reactionary Arab regimes in
Egypt and Saudi Arabia are hanging by a thread, and others like Jordan
and Morocco are not far behind. They would far prefer to leave things
as they are, on the grounds that it is better to deal with the Devil
you know than the Devil you do not know.
For the present, however, neither Khamanei nor Mousavi, neither
Obama nor Rafsanjani, control the situation. The mass movement is what
dominates all and it has a dynamic and a logic of its own. The Iranian
Marxists will throw all their energies behind the mass movement and do
their best to give it an organized and conscious form. The workers and
youth will relearn the lessons of 1979. Let us remember that the
overthrow of the Shah was brought about by the workers, who launched a
strike-wave that spread across the country like wildfire.
The oil workers struck for 33 days, bringing the economy to a
grinding halt. All attempts to send troops into the oilfields led to
nothing. Millions of protesters marched in Tehran, demanding the
overthrow of the Shah, the driving out of American imperialism and the
arming of the people. The revolt spread to the soldiers, who began to
The revolutionaries took over army bases, the parliament, factories,
armouries and the TV station. The Pahlavi regime collapsed like a house
of cards. The workers seized the factories, the peasants seized the
land. The system of grassroots control through committees called
“shoras” were in fact the equivalent of the soviets in the Russian
Revolution. These are the real revolutionary traditions of Iran! This
is the way to proceed!
The so-called bourgeois reformers are not to be trusted. We say to
the workers and youth of Iran: do not trust Mousavi and people like
him! Trust only in yourselves, your strength and organization!
Establish committees of struggle – shoras – to organize and link your
struggles locally, provincially and nationally! Do not allow the
control of the movement to pass out of your hands! Reject all calls to
demobilize and beware of all attempts to manoeuvre and do deals behind
It is impossible to say with any certainty what the outcome of this
phase of the struggle will be; but one thing is clear: Iran will never
be the same again. The scale of the protests and the vacillations of
the authorities have placed a question mark over the very survival of
the regime. The protests have a considerable disruptive potential that
is alarming the regime. But it is not enough to disrupt society. It is
necessary to pose an alternative.
Whatever happens, the current of history is now flowing strongly in
our direction. There will inevitably be defeats and setbacks because of
the nature of the leaders. But the workers and students will draw
conclusions from their experience. Sooner or later they will draw the
conclusion that what is needed is a fundamental change in society. What
is needed is not just democracy but an Iranian Workers’ and Peasants’
Republic, which will set the whole Middle East ablaze.
First published on www.marxist.com site on 17th June
Click here to read more material on the events in Iran.
Articles available include:
Iran: First signs of revolution (16th June)
The 18th Brumaire of Mahmoud Admadinejad (15th June)
Iran: Clumsy Fraud (16th June)
Click here to find out more about the Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network
Support the international day of action – Friday 26th June.
In London, the TUC, Amnesty International and ITF will be holding a
gathering at the Iranian Embassy between 12.30 and 13.30 to demand the
release of imprisoned unionists and ratification of ILO core
conventions. Trade unions and Amnesty will deliver 16,000 individually
signed action cards for Mansour Osanloo and workers’ rights in Iran.
IS THIS THE BEGINNING OF
THE IRANIAN REVOLUTION?
Next Thursday 25th June 7pm.
Room 2c, ULU, Malet St.
(Meeting hosted by ULU Marxists Society)