Last year a powerful movement erupted in
Iran that shook the hated
Islamic fundamentalist regime to its very foundations. All the
conditions were present for a successful revolutionary overthrow of the
regime. What was lacking, however, was the active participation of the
working class as an organised force and, most importantly, a conscious,
revolutionary leadership of the movement.
revolution. Like a thunderbolt form a clear blue sky, thousands of angry
people, mainly youth, took to the streets of Teheran to protest against
the blatant rigging of the elections. With unbelievable heroism, they
braved the organized violence of the state to confront the reactionary
regime of the mullahs that has oppressed them for so long.
This movement was a tremendous source of inspiration for the workers
and youth of the whole world. It was the final answer to all the
cowards, sceptics and renegades who doubt the revolutionary potential of
This sudden outburst of the masses took many people by surprise. In
particularly, the so-called Iranian “vanguard” – those sorry individuals
who in the past called themselves “Communists” and “Trotskyists” who
have lost all hope in the proletariat and the socialist revolution and
have capitulated to the pressure of bourgeois society and its ideology.
Yesterday I received an interesting letter by an Iranian comrade who
“(…) the movement is very combined and uneven in character – for
instance it seems like many places the movement is waking up now, or at
least continuing upwards while other places have peaked months ago and
so on (although this process is different from Russia 1905 in the fact
that it is not difference in pace between workers and peasants – there
are not many peasants in Iran – but more between Tehran and all other
places. Although even this is not exact because there are many places in
Tehran where people are increasingly mobilizing and some other cities
like Shiraz where there seems to be a very pessimistic mood).”
One would expect this to be the case. In some areas, where the
movement reached a high point earlier, the masses are retreating. There
are signs of exhaustion and even demoralisation. How could it be
otherwise? After months of strenuous exertion, with no end in sight, the
masses will be tired and the movement, for a time, will begin to ebb.
The less resilient elements will fall into inactivity and the more
militant elements will find themselves temporarily isolated.
But this is only one side of the equation. There are other areas
where the movement is on the rise. New layers of the popular movement
are entering into struggle, and are enthusiastic. In general, those who
display the greatest degree of pessimism are the older, more experienced
layer, including the so-called “vanguard”. But among the new, fresh
layers of youth, the mood is completely different. They are enthusiastic
and prepared to struggle. It is on this layer that we must base
What is a revolution?
The chief feature of a revolution is the direct intervention of the
masses, which begin to take their lives and destinies into their own
hands. That is precisely what happened twelve months ago in Iran.
Whoever is unable to see that this was a revolution does not know what a
revolution is. “Eyes have they, but they see not.” To such hopeless
people we have nothing to say. All the conditions listed by Lenin for a
revolution exist in Iran at the present time: splits at the top, ferment
among the middle class, a powerful working class with revolutionary
traditions, waves of important strikes, etc.
movement had shown one percent of the determination and courage that was
shown by the masses, they could have taken power with not the slightest
difficulty. But the bourgeois reformists did not want to take power. In
reality, they were afraid of the forces they had conjured up. They
acted as a brake on the movement. A general strike in Iran would pose
the question of power. For that very reason the reformist leaders
refused to call a general strike.
The absence of a serious leadership is the main reason why the
movement has entered into decline. At the moment, there is a depressed
mood among some layers. Everybody realizes that we need a new strategy
but nobody says what it is and nobody can see a way out. In the present
conditions, to send unorganized and unarmed people against the regime is
madness. What is required is to give the unorganized and dispersed
forces of the revolution an organized character.
The supremacy of reaction is superficial. There is a kind of uneasy
stalemate, in which both sides have the idea of “wait and see”. Neither
side is satisfied with the position, but neither side has the strength
to finish it off.
The economic crisis has hit Iran hard. The regime is faced with the
need to cut subsidies from petrol and basic necessities like bread. But
Ahmadinejad (correctly) fears this would spark off a new and even more
dangerous wave of protests. There are corruption scandals at the highest
levels. The leaders are fighting like cats in a sack. All these are
symptoms of a regime in decomposition.
Nobody can say how long the present situation will last, but it
probably will not last for long. In order to keep the masses under
control, repression alone is not enough. The regime is using up al its
reserves, and is regarded with hatred and contempt by an increasingly
wide layer of society. Although the May Day demonstrations were less
numerous than last year, they were also more national in character,
spreading to almost every town and city. This fact indicates the
beginnings of an awakening of the Iranian workers. The 24-hour general
strike in Kurdistan was a successful act of mass defiance, which
humiliated the regime and showed the limits of its power.
Who will fight for democracy?
The objective tasks of the movement are democratic. The masses want
to fight for democratic rights. But the bourgeois and petty bourgeois
reformists are not capable of conducting a serious fight for democracy.
In the best case, they saw the mass movement as a kind of bargaining
counter to put pressure on the regime to grant some concessions, like a
merchant haggling in a bazaar. But they had no intention of
fundamentally changing the regime, of which they had been an integral
part until recently.
Russian revolution – shows that the bourgeois Liberals are not capable
of carrying out the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution in
countries like Iran. These people talk about democracy but in the last
analysis are always ready to compromise, to surrender, in a word, to
betray. The only force in society that is capable of waging a consistent
fight for democracy is the revolutionary people: the workers, the
peasants, the urban poor, the revolutionary youth, the women and the
These are the forces that came onto the streets and risked their
lives in June 2009. They were not called out by the reformist leaders,
who initially opposed the demonstrations and only began to participate
under the pressure from below. They organized themselves and proceeded
to go further than the leaders had intended. But the lack of leadership,
the absence of a clear perspective and plan of action eventually
undermined the movement. Thus, the central question of the Iranian
revolution is the question of leadership.
Reactionary role of scepticism
It is said that the first European explorer who saw a giraffe
exclaimed: “I don’t believe it.” This was precisely the reaction of our
“erudite Marxists” when they were confronted with the revolutionary
upsurge in June 2009. They did not recognize the significance of what
was taking place.
To carry out a revolution would be a very simple matter if everything
proceeded in a straight line. But life is not so simple! Temporarily,
the movement has been set back. Ah! Say the “erudite Marxists”, you see!
We told you there was no revolution! It is all nonsense. The regime is
firmly in the saddle. There is no hope!” And they return to the nearest
café where they continue to weep in their herbal tea, a place we can
safely leave them.
Those people refuse to accept that there was a revolution in Iran
were blind to the developments unfolding before their eyes. They did not
expect a revolutionary movement to develop out of the electoral fraud
in June. It took them completely unawares. They had absolutely nothing
to say about the election campaign, although it already involved very
big mass meetings of the opposition in Teheran. They reacted with
astonishment to the mass demonstrations that provoked a deep crisis in
the regime. Consequently, they failed to react in a decisive way to
these events, in which they played a marginal role, if they played any
role at all.
On 18 June, 2009, I wrote the following:
“Strangely enough, there are some people on the Left, even some who
like to call themselves Marxists, who do not understand this. After so
many years in which nothing seemed to be happening in Iran, many of
these Lefts, who had been very radical in their youth but in middle age
have succumbed to a comfortable scepticism, have given up all hope in
the revolutionary transformation of society. They did not expect the
present upheaval because they had no confidence whatsoever in the
revolutionary potential of the masses. And now, even when the movement
is taking place before their very eyes, they still refuse to believe
In the same article I recalled that Trotsky compared the Russian
Mensheviks to a tired old schoolteacher who for many years taught his
students what the spring is. But then one morning, this old professor
opened the window to let some fresh air into his stuffy classroom.
Suddenly, he saw a blue sky, with the sun shining and the birds singing,
whereupon he immediately slammed the window shut, declaring the spring
to be some monstrous aberration of nature.
Our “left wing” sceptics are just like that moth-eaten old professor.
They like to talk a lot about a revolution and remind us of when they
were young in Paris in 1968 or Teheran in 1979, but in reality they have
not a single atom of revolutionary spirit or a gram of Marxist
understanding in them. Such people are an obstacle in the way of the
revolution, infecting the youth with poisonous scepticism. Fortunately,
they have no influence with the new generation in Iran, which has no
need of such clever ‘professors’ to teach them how to fight.
It was the duty of all genuine Marxists to support the mass movement,
despite all its defects, errors and limitations. It was the duty of a
genuine vanguard to strive to the utmost to mobilize the workers in
support of the students, to set up action committees and to agitate for a
general strike. Only in this way would it have been possible to expose
the vacillations of Mousavi and the other bourgeois leaders, to prove in
practice the superiority of a proletarian policy, and to win the
leadership of the movement.
A self-proclaimed “vanguard” that is not capable of recognizing a
revolution when it is taking place under their noses is fit for nothing.
By refusing to intervene decisively in the revolution, it has shown
itself unfit to lead. We predict that the new revolutionary wave, which
is inevitable, will pass these gentlemen by, without even noticing them.
Lenin on revolution
Our critics can see only defeats and black reaction. They say:
“revolution, what revolution?” These people, having no faith in the
revolutionary potential of the masses, are anxious to deny or belittle
each and every revolutionary manifestation. These “erudite Marxists”
proceed, not on the basis of the real movement, but on the basis of
abstract formulae. They have a vision of a chemically pure proletarian
revolution, perfect in every detail, in which the workers lead the
revolution, and the “erudite Marxists” (of course) lead the workers.
life is not perfect, and the mass movement does not always correspond
to ready made schema. When the real movement contradicts their schemas,
these gentlemen do not draw the conclusion that maybe their preconceived
idea was incorrect, but rather they conclude that reality is all wrong,
that there is no revolution at all, but something else altogether (they
do not know what). In other words, they behave as scholastic
idealists and not at all as dialectical materialists.
Lenin long ago answered those doctrinaires who are hopelessly
incapable of envisaging a social revolution as a living phenomenon when
“Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live
to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without
understanding what revolution is.
“The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a bourgeois-democratic
revolution. It consisted of a series of battles in which all
the discontented classes, groups and elements of the population
participated. Among these there were masses imbued with the crudest prejudices,
with the vaguest and most fantastic aims of struggle; there were small
groups which accepted Japanese money, there were speculators and
adventurers, etc. But objectively, the mass movement was
breaking the back of tsarism and paving the way for democracy; for this
reason the class-conscious workers led it.
“The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other
than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry
oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty
bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without
such participation, mass struggle is impossible,
without it no revolution is possible—and just as inevitably will they
bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies,
their weaknesses and errors. But objectively they will attack capital,
and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced
proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a variegated and
discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will be able
to unite and direct it, capture power, seize the banks, expropriate the
trusts which all hate (though for different reasons!), and introduce
other dictatorial measures which in their totality will amount to the
overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which,
however, will by no means immediately ‘purge’ itself of petty-bourgeois
slag.” (Lenin, The Discussion on Self-Determination summed up,
Here we have the real essence of revolutionary Leninism, not the
miserable caricature of doctrinaire sectarians who, out of a comical
misunderstanding, call themselves “Marxist-Leninists” and thus discredit
the very idea of Marxism and Leninism in the eyes of the revolutionary
youth of Iran.
Ebbs and flows inevitable
The author of these lines was born on the shores of the Atlantic
Ocean in my beautiful South Wales. I remember the vast expanses of sand
on the beaches, and the huge waves that swept over them twice a day. If
you walked on these beaches at low tide, you could see a large number of
curious creatures: dead and dying fishes stranded in pools. Then the
tide would rush in once more and sweep away all this rotten debris,
bringing fresh oxygen and new life.
There is a close analogy between the ocean tides and the class
struggle. Revolutions do not occur twice a day, of course. On the
contrary, they are rare events in history. A revolution is not a single
event, a one-act drama. It is a living process that contains many
contradictory elements. By definition, the revolution is confronted with
the forces of the counterrevolution. In this gigantic trial of strength
there will inevitably be ebbs and flows. We see this in every
revolution in history.
Marxists base themselves on the real situation, not on ready-made
schemas. We immediately recognized that what was occurring was a
revolution, and hailed it with every enthusiasm. We followed events
through all their twists and turns. On 26 June 2009 I wrote the
“The regime, having partially recovered its nerve, is cracking down
very hard, brutally repressing demonstrations, which means that less
people are coming onto the street. This is natural. People cannot
continually go onto the streets to get their heads cracked unless they
see the possibility of a decisive outcome. Although there may be
other waves of anger and protest, if the movement is not taken to a
higher level, there will inevitably be a tendency for it to go into
decline, at least for a while.”
These lines are clear enough for anyone who wishes to understand
them. The revolution is not a one-act drama. It will go through many
phases, with periods of great upsurge, as we saw in June 2009, and again
in the days of Ashura and Tasua. But there will also be periods of
lull, retreats, and even defeats. Whoever does not understand this does
not understand the nature of a revolution.
For the time being the movement has been forcibly suppressed. But
nothing has been solved. The contradictions in Iranian society have not
been resolved but only suppressed. It is the equivalent of clamping down
the lid of a pressure cooker by removing the safety valve. By such
means it will be possible to keep the lid on for a time, but only by
increasing the pressure to such a point that the explosion, when it
finally comes, will be a hundred times more violent. By smashing the
reformist wing, the reactionaries have removed any possibility of a
gradual and peaceful solution. The bitterness and anger will be driven
into the depths of society, where it will increase and become more
There are many historical analogies to the present situation in Iran.
The closest historical analogy is the 1905 Revolution in Russia, which
we have already referred to above. When the Russian proletariat first
came onto the stage of history in that year, it was in a peaceful
demonstration led by a priest (who was also a police agent), Father
read the statements of our “vanguard” friends in Iran, who are always
complaining about the alleged “low level of consciousness of the working
class”. At the beginning of the first Russian Revolution, on the mass
demonstration of 9 January, the workers carried, not red banners, but
religious icons. The purpose of the demonstration was to present a
petition to the Tsar (the batyushka, or Little Father, as the
workers called him).
It would be very easy to talk of the low level of consciousness of
the Russian workers at that time. They were mainly peasants who had only
recently migrated to the towns from the villages. They were deeply
religious; few could read or write; they drank vodka and beat their
wives. Politically, they were completely illiterate. When the Russian
Marxists attempted to distribute leaflets calling for a republic, the
workers (many of whom were monarchists) often tore up the leaflets and
sometimes beat up those who were giving them out.
But all this changed in a few hours after the massacre of Bloody
Sunday, when the repressive forces of the tsarist regime slaughtered
unarmed demonstrators. On the evening of the 9th January, the
same workers came to the Bolsheviks (who were very few in number) with
one demand: “give us arms!” In a few hours the consciousness of the
workers was completely transformed. A similar process is now taking
place in Iran, as the workers and youth draw the lessons from their
Over a period of months, Russia was convulsed by a revolutionary
wave, in which the working class played the main role. However, the
workers at that time were a small minority. The peasantry, which made up
the overwhelming majority of society, was slower to move. By the time
the revolution had spread to the rural areas late in 1906, the movement
in the towns had been crushed. The uprising of the workers of Moscow in
December 1905 had been drowned in blood. The revolution entered into
For four years the counterrevolutionary terror raged, until a new
revolutionary upswing commenced in 1911-12. Another example is the
Spanish Revolution, which lasted seven years, from 1930 to 1937. But in
this period there were many ups and downs, periods of tremendous
advances, but also periods of tiredness, retreats, defeats, and even
periods of reaction, like the “two black years” that followed the defeat
of the Asturian Commune in October 1934.
This was a period of ferocious repression, with thousands of people
killed and hundreds of thousands imprisoned. But in the end it proved to
be only the prelude to a new revolutionary upsurge with the election of
the Popular Front in 1936.
Of course, every historical analogy has its limitations. There are
similarities but also differences. In Russia and Spain the working class
was a minority of society. The big majority were peasants. In Iran this
is no longer the case. The majority of Iranians now live in towns and
cities, and the peasantry, though still a significant force, is a
minority. The enormous importance of the Iranian working class was shown
in 1979, when the Shah was overthrown by the combination of a popular
insurrection and a general strike.
The tasks of the communists
It is unlikely that the present state of unstable equilibrium will
last for long. There is a profound crisis at all levels of Iranian
society: political, economic and social. Nobody is happy with the
outcome. When the new upsurge occurs – as it must do – it will be on a
qualitatively higher level than before. The spontaneous strike and mass
demonstration against the execution of five leftist activists in the
Kurdish areas and the organization of May Day pickets and demonstrations
in many Iranian cities were an indication of the explosive nature of
the situation and the revolutionary potential of the working class.
What is the duty of the Iranian communists in such a situation? The
answer to this question was given by Leon Trotsky, who wrote in 1930:
“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 demonstrations 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 correct
“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.” (Leon Trotsky, The Problems of the
Spanish Revolution, my emphasis, AW)
apparently in the saddle in Iran. But the reaction is not at all solid.
The conflicts and splits between the rival tendencies are gradually
undermining the regime from within. We do not underestimate the
difficulties. The Iranian regime is monstrously repressive. But it is no
more repressive than was the tsarist state, and all history has shown
that even the most powerful state can never withstand the masses, once
they are organized and mobilized for the transformation of society. We
saw this in France in 1789, in Russia in 1917, and in Iran in 1979. And
we will see it again in one country after another in the period that now
Given the temporary lull in the mass movement it is obviously correct
to start out from the most elementary democratic demands: the release
of all political prisoners, the right to assembly, organize and
demonstrate, punishment for those responsible for repressive acts
against the people, etc. But as the movement begins to revive, it will
be necessary at a certain stage to pose the question of mass
revolutionary actions, up to and including a general strike.
If the workers’ vanguard is to be a real revolutionary vanguard, and
not just an empty phrase, it must find a way of connecting with the mass
revolutionary movement, boldly taking up the most advanced democratic
slogans, and linking them to the central idea of an all-Iranian general
strike to overthrow the regime. In order to prepare for this, it will be
necessary to assist in the building of organizing committees in the
factories and neighbourhoods. That was what was missing in the big
movements of the last 12 months. It is the only way forward.
Support the Iranian section of the IMT!
Once the Iranian masses start to move, they will shake the world. The
coming revolution can take different paths but there is one thing we
can be sure of: it will not be a fundamentalist movement. 28 years of
the mullahs in power have totally discredited them among the masses and
youth. The majority of the population is young and fresh; they will be
open to socialist revolutionary ideas and Marxism. The Iranian
revolution will change the entire situation in the Middle East, showing
that genuine anti-imperialism need not have a fundamentalist character.
It will have an impact on the whole region.
A new upsurge is being prepared in Iran. The most important element
in the equation is the fact that a layer of the youth is thinking over
what has happened, analysing, questioning and criticising. The question
is being insistently posed: if we had such a powerful movement, why did
we fail? And the answer to this question is increasingly clear: we
failed, in part because we needed the active participation of the
workers – as in 1979. But mainly we failed because of the lack of a
determined revolutionary leadership.
In reality, the only factor that is needed to guarantee the success
of the Iranian revolution is a determined and far-sighted leadership.
The forces of Marxism in Iran are as yet numerically weak. But we are
strong in ideas. The Iranian section of the IMT is conducting serious
work and obtaining good results. The launching of the impressive new
Tabaghati ("Class Struggle") was a big step forward. The work of
our Iranian comrades is of great importance. We must give them every
The smallness of our numbers does not dishearten us. At the beginning
of the first Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks were also a very small
minority. But on the basis of clear ideas, which correspond closely to
objective reality and historical necessity, we can grow very quickly.
And we are growing and maturing together with the real movement.
The main problem is not objective but subjective: in the psychology
of the masses. There are different moods among different layers: some
are demoralised – especially the Lefts; but other activists in the green
movement, especially the youth are enthusiastic and open to our ideas.
This is natural: they are young and fresh, and untainted by the
sceptical moods that are the product of past defeats.
Napoleon said that defeated armies learn well. On the basis of
experience thousands of the best and most revolutionary youth are
acquiring a level of consciousness that is needed to carry through the
revolution to the end. They understand that half measures are useless,
that there can be no compromise with the regime, and that leaders who
pursue this line will inevitably betray.
Increasingly, a layer of the youth is looking for a fundamental
change in society. They are impatient with the reformist leaders. They
call themselves socialists and show a growing interest in the ideas of
Marxism. This is the real future of the revolutionary movement in Iran.
The pessimistic psychology of the “vanguard” reflects the past. That of
the new generation of young fighters represents the future. We stand
with the future of Iran, not its past. And to those who are always
clutching their heads and saying “this is the end”, we reply: Not
so, my friend, this is not the end. It is only the beginning!