Friday, June 26, 2009


Iran in the last few weeks has been in a political ferment as tens of thousands mobilised around the dispute between the two leading factions of the Iran national bourgeoisie who both represent the rightwing Islamic regime that came to power in 1979. This dispute is about how best to control the masses and how best to gain control of a share of Iran’s wealth in significant deals done with Japan, Germany, Russia and China. The spark that ignited deep dissatisfaction against the Islamic regime among youth and organized labor was what they saw as an election stolen by Ahmadinejad. The mass rallies and repression then escalated over several weeks into a major crisis in which a more politically conscious element came to the fore and raised the demand for the end of the ISI (Islamic regime) and for a ‘democracy’. At this point Rafsanjani began to make overtures to Khamenei to restore social peace and defend the Islamic regime. We argue here that workers need a revolutionary leadership to complete the revolution that was betrayed and smashed in 1979. There is no halfway house of ‘democracy’ that does not become a ‘slaughterhouse’ of the masses. The revolution must be ‘permanent’ and for that there must be a revolutionary party and program based on the Leninist-Trotskyist program of 1938.

The revolution betrayed

Iran has long been a strategic prize for imperialism as a historical power pivotal between Europe and Asia. The imperialist countries squabbled over Iran early in the 20th century. Today this rivalry is hotting up again as the structural crisis of the global economy is bringing about a renewed period of inter-imperialist rivalry. At stake are Iran’s oil and gas resources (second largest reserves in the OECD) and access Central Asian oil. The British lost control of Iran oil when Mossadegh came to power after WW 2. But as he moved toward the USSR he was overthrown by a US sponsored coup in 1953 and the pro-US Shah installed. A national revolution against this US puppet rose up on 1979 but was diverted by the reactionary Islamic clerical bourgeois faction led by the Ayatollah Khomeini into a counter-revolutionary Islamic regime.

The tragedy of the 1979 revolution showed that Iran was ripe for revolution but lacked a revolutionary leadership. The workers and poor peasants were the force behind the anti-Shah revolution, but were led by liberals and Stalinists who allied with the Islamic national bourgeoisie who by 1981 had turned on the most advanced workers and exterminated many thousands of the best militants. The failure of the socialist revolution can be clearly blamed on the role of the Stalinist Tudeh party which following the fatalist Stalinist line of making a democratic revolution in alliance with the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie to kick out the imperialists. The Stalinists refused to learn from their betrayal of the revolution in China in 1927 when their ‘ally” and honorary member of the Comintern, Chiang Kai Shek, turned on the Communist Party and massacred its leadership.

Playing an equally bad role but this time adventurist rather than fatalist, the Maoist and Guevaraist guerillas thought that they could spark off a popular insurrection that would take over the historic role of the national bourgeoisie. Of course the Islamic leadership obeyed its own laws of motion, its collective hip pocket, and despite the anti-imperialist rhetoric, recognised that its class interests lay in doing deals with imperialism, and so turned on and smashed not only the treacherous leadership of the working class, but the heroic vanguard.

Today, nearly 30 years after the Islamic clerical counter-revolution, we have a split in the Islamic bourgeoisie between two factions who are squabbling over their share of the profits from the privatization of state assets and FDI in oil and gas assets. Both factions are committed to wholesale privatization and a greater role for FDI in oil and gas production.

The dominant faction, that of Khamenei/Ahmadinejad is a rightwing populist faction that continues to follow the Islamic ‘revolutionary’ principles of the 1979 revolution. It mobilises the rural and working class poor around an Islamic nationalism against US imperialism and Zionism in a bloc mainly with Russia, China, India etc, along with the Bolivarian states, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador. Its nationalist rhetoric is designed to suppress resistance on the part of Iran’s poor workers and peasants who have suffered massive cuts to their living standards under Iran’s IMF-supervised structural adjustment program.

The other faction, around Rafsanjani/Mousavi is no less committed to privatization and DFI in the economy, but presents a more liberal program of social welfare and protected living standards. It is based on the urban middle class and some sectors of workers and favors a modernized Islamic state that can do deals with ‘democratic’ EU and US imperialism. Most prominent in support of the opposition against the existing regime are the university students and prominent union activists in the Teachers Union of Iran and the Teheran Bus Drivers Union, both of which have suffered repression of strike action from 2005 to the present.

Who does the reformist left back in this fight?

Those who see the US as the main enemy (or like Petras see the US as a pawn of the Israelis) back the rightwing populists because they think they are genuinely anti-imperialist. This is a lie. The regime is not anti-imperialist. !t uses anti US and anti-Zionist sentiment cynically to control the impoverished masses. In principle the regime has no objection in doing deals with the US and UK but since these countries have imposed the UN economic embargo on Iran, they play the role of foreign “devils” to arouse nationalist sentiment. They play this role well being the two powers who have dominated Iran in modern history. Today they lead the attack on Iran’s nuclear program. UK banks have frozen Iran’s accounts. The US pressures Sarkosy to boycott Iran. This has lost the French Total a major oil and gas contract which has gone instead to China.

Germany, however, has broken ranks and is stepping up its FDI in Iran, mainly to provide technical development in oil and gas production. It is desperate to get gas from a source other than Russia. Iran moreover is very keen to develop the “Persian Pipeline” to take its gas via Turkey to the EU. Japan, also a major imperialist power, is a major export partner. Not only that, Iran is open for business with Russia, China, India etc., a powerful bloc of nations, including Japan, increasingly drawn into economic competition with the US and EU. Most of FDI in Iran developing its oil and gas resources today is now Chinese. Russia refuses to stop cooperating in Iran’s nuclear development. Thus the anti-imperialism of the ruling faction is a smokescreen to contain the masses while the Islamic bourgeoisie pockets its oil and gas profits.

This is why the leadership of the World Social Forum backs this faction. Chavez has come out (on Alo Presidente on 21 June) in support of the Iranian populists. “We send a greeting to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's great president, to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and to the Iranian people. We ask the world to respect Iran because they are trying to undermine the Iranian revolution's strength." This shows that the Venezuelan Bonapartist recognises his class interests are the same as the right wing populist Ahmadinejad. Chavez sees the ability of the Bolivarian states in pressuring US imperialism to reduce the costs of the crisis of finance capital being downloaded on the semi-colonial world as strengthened by the bloc of states allied to Russia, China and Iran. It doesn’t matter that the regimes in these countries are rightwing populist or state capitalist Bonapartist since what is critical is containing the masses behind an anti-US imperialist wave of public opinion so that an anti-US bloc of states can put pressure on the US ruling class towards ‘multilateral’ or ‘multipolar’ world.

Those who think that imperialism can be democratic and peaceful back the modernizing faction. As we have seen Rafsanjani/Mousavi are no more anti-imperialist than the present regime. However, they are openly aligned to Obama and the EU as what they see as ‘democratic’ imperialists. This explains the widespread sympathy for Mousavi and the claim that the election was rigged by all those liberal and ‘social democratic’ and left movements in the imperialist countries.

The left leg of the WSF (IMT etc) covers for Chavez support of the right populists by backing the 'democratic' rights of the protesters, covering Chavez naked backside with the call for a national democratic front in the form of a “constituent assembly”. They hope to "pressure" the WSF popular front to the left as Chavez tends to the right. They do not see their position as contradictory as they operate with the concept of the popular front that pretends that the working class can prevail against the bourgeoisie in a Bonapartist regime.

Alan Woods of the IMT explains Chavez’ support of Ahmadinejad as a “mistake”. Similarly, he does not think that James Petras is deliberately attacking Iranian workers. He too is “mistaken”. What is their mistake? The mistake is to think that Iran is like the populist regimes in Latin America. According to Woods, Iran is an Islamic dictatorship. The regime is a military Bonapartism not a Latin American populism. What Woods fails to see is that Chavez and Petras are correct in essence. Venezuela and Iran are essentially the same despite their surface appearances. And for that reason they are forced to expose the reality under the appearances. Both regimes are forms of Bonapartism which attempts to include the poor masses directly as the ‘subjects’ of the revolution. In Latin America it is a ‘popular front’ for Bolivarian revolution; in Iran it is an Islamic Republic.

The concept that unites all of these regimes and reveals their popular front character is that of the Marxist concept of Bonapartism. A Bonapartist regime is one that claims to be ‘national’ rather than class based and draws its support from a declassed ‘populism’. The Marxist concept of ‘popular front’ is a class critique of ‘populism’ which exposes the role of the ruling class in disguising its class interests with a ‘classless’ formula. Such regimes range between ‘left’ Bonapartism such as Chavez when the leader is able to contain the masses by social reforms, to ‘right’ Bonapartism such as Ahmadinejad, where counter-reforms are imposed upon the masses in the 'national' interest. Thus in the last analysis, Bonapartism is a bourgeois regime that is necessarily pushed to the right as imperialism imposes the costs of its global crisis onto the semi-colonial world. The role of Bonapartism is to divert the working class from independent self-organisation to face the onset of the fascist counter-revolution.

Like the fake Trotskyist left leg of the WSF, the Iranian pseudo-revolutionary left generally supports the modernizers against the ‘dictator’. They recognise that while both factions are part of the ISI but the opposition has set in motion a popular fight for democracy to bring the 1979 ICI regime to an end. For example the Workers Communist Party of Iran is a small party that has many supporters outside Iran including Iraq, and is very active on the internet. It takes a reformist posture adhering to a stageist conception of the revolution. In Iraq for example it called on the UN to replace US imperialism under the illusion that the UN would represent ‘democratic’ imperialism.

In Iran the WCI raises immediate demands but does not call for socialism yet. That comes later…
This is a dangerous position as it does not prepare workers for the insurrection. It does not explain that their 10 immediate democratic demands which include freedom of assembly, release of political prisoners and end of torture etc., cannot be won short of a socialist revolution. It does not explain how workers need to being organizing and arming now to win that revolution. Therefore to the extent that it influences the vanguard, it runs the danger of repeating the betrayal of the Tudeh and the guerrillaists of 1979.

What position should revolutionaries take in this fight?

Revolutionaries back neither bourgeois faction but instead back the fight for the political independence of the working class. We explain that there can be no national independence from imperialism without the working class leading that fight all the way to socialism. For this we need a program for a real Socialist Republic.

Our program is first, to defend the democratic rights of workers, peasants, students etc to vote, to demonstrate, for freedom of expression in the media and on the streets etc. This includes freedom of all political prisoners, freedom of religion, opposition to Sharia law, etc. Without these democratic rights it is not possible to organize openly an independent working class movement.

We also defend the national rights of Iranians to be free from the oppression of imperialism but say that only a Socialist Republic can do this.

To that end we form a united front with those who are protesting the outcome of the election whether or not it was rigged, but without an ounce of political support to the modernizers who have illusions in imperialism. We do not renounce this fight for democratic rights under the delusion that this weakens the rightwing populist credentials as anti-imperialist. As we have seen this is a fraud. The regime is making deals with Japan and Germany every month, and with Russia and China.

Second, we demand a program that will meet the needs of workers, peasants etc particularly facing an economic crisis and state repression, for jobs for all, a living wage, decent housing, education and social security.

Third, we say to workers that to win these democratic rights, to organize an economy that can meet workers needs, it will be necessary to take power. Workers must strike and occupy their workplaces, arm and defend themselves. There can be no compromise with the bourgeoisie of any faction. No trust can be placed in any of the institutions of the state, especially the military and the justice system.

Fourth, this means that workers have to organize their own assemblies around workplaces and universities, and coordinate regionally and nationally. We call on poor peasants to organize their own “shora” and for the ranks of the military to organize their rank and file “shora”. These “shora” have to be defended by armed workers, peasants and rank and file soldiers.

Inside these “shora” revolutionaries have to fight for the leadership around a Leninist-Trotskyist program of world socialist revolution to defeat the traitors of the world social forum.

For a Workers and Poor Peasants Government

Finally, to express the interests of the workers, the poor peasants and students, we call for the formation of a Workers’ and Poor Peasants Government, i.e. the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

We do not accept that to mobilise the forces for revolution that it is necessary to call first for a Constituent Assembly which is a form of bourgeois regime that recognises the right of the bourgeoisie to have an equal vote with workers. This is a Menshevik concession to Stalinist stagism and a vote of no-confidence in the revolutionary capacity of the working class and its vanguard. It is another form of the popular front which entraps workers and poor peasants inside a bourgeois regime.

A Workers’ and Poor Peasants’ Government is the Government of those classes who are exploited by the bourgeoisie, and of the petty bourgeoisie who prove themselves loyal to the revolution. The only form of Socialist Republic that we recognise is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.


president said...

Please explain the sentence" we do not renounce... under the delusion that this weakens... right wing.. anti-imperialist. Fraud!"

i find the multiple negatives confusing.

Do you mean that you do not give up your support for the protestors, in order to support a supposed anti-imperialist struggle led by A.. who is in acutality right wing and not genuinely anti -imperialist.?

dave said...

Correct. Thanks for the comment.
The post has been revised, and I will check on this wording as well.