The situation in Iran

Following the official announcement of results in the early hours of Saturday 13th June, it was clear that the conservative faction of the Islamic theocracy had made certain that their figurehead Ahmadinejad retained the Presidency by whatever means necessary. Consequently, Ahmadinejad secured an alleged 11 million more votes than his main rival Mir-Hossein Mousavi. This despite the fact that according to the reformist faction of the regime (lead by Mousavi) some 13 million ballots have gone missing. Ahmadinejad claimed victory with some 42 million votes (63% of the vote), but in a country where he and his allies are deeply unpopular, especially with the young and urban population, this margin of ‘victory’ does not add up – as 75% of Iran is under 30 and a similar proportion are urbanised. Ballot rigging in the Islamic republic may not be a new phenomena, but the scale of the distortion in this election is huge and has rightly given birth to a wave of mass protests, aimed not at a recount, or even an annulment but of a new phase in Iranian history and the death of the Islamic Republic.

There have been mixed reactions from across the world regarding the election results, with the imperialists quick to use the opportunity to beat their war-drums and the winning faction quick to accuse the United States et al of involvement in the unrest. Equally stupid are the apologists for the barbarous regime in Iran who were also similarly quick in their response (but in applause of the elections). One such idiot is everybody’s favourite homophobe-come-Stalinist, Respect MP George Galloway, who was among the first to commend the ‘democratic’ elections, citing the high turnout and the resulting protests as evidence that Iran was a democracy (never mind the fact that Iran is a brutal one-party State, that all established political opponents of the theocracy are in exile and/or brutally suppressed and of course that you can only stand for election in the first place if you’re a male islamist!). It makes you wander if Galloway in his genius would cite the Tianamen Square protests to demonstrate the democratic credentials of Chinese Stalinism?

Soon after the results were announced rage spread right across the world, the extent of the regime’s meddling in the elections was so apparent that protests were inevitable and even as this is written (some two weeks after the election), Iranian workers are braving the militarised streets of Tehran to demonstrate their anger and let out decades of frustration with the Islamic Republic.

The BBC and other media outlets however have portrayed these demonstrations as the reformist faction calling for a recount, but this is not the reality. Although Mousavi did call for his supporters to take to the streets in protest at the results, this was a mere spectacle, it is noteworthy that Mousavi did not pursue the constitutional and legal route to challenge the elections (going via the Council of Guardians) this is precisely because he knows there will be no recount and he knows that his supporters congregating on the streets of Tehran will not pose any threat to the dictatorship of the ruling clerics. He knows this because he is part and parcel of the theocratic regime, a pillar of the Islamic Republic. This is clear not only from his candidacy (all candidates must be approved by the religious body the Guardian of Councils) but from his political history. Mousavi is best known in Iran not for his opposition to the Conservative faction, but for his attempts to conciliate the two factions of the Iranian ruling mullahs. It was noteworthy for example during the now infamous televised debates, that there was no substantive policy difference between the two main candidates. In fact the only major differences during these debates between all four candidates were in regards to liberalisation of the strict female dress-codes (with Mousavi offering minor reforms) and over foreign policy where Mousavi claimed that occasionally (!) Ahmadinejad in some of his inflammatory speeches had actually worsened relations between Iran and the West (as if this were not both obvious and intentional).

In fact so eager are the media (as well as the governments of both Iran and the so-called ‘West’) to distort these protests as solely about the election results that they have shifted the whole tenor of the discussion regarding the recent protests. Reformist supporters have been seen on television the world over calling for a recount, there has even been talk of a ‘Green revolution’ in Iran (Green being the adopted colour of the Mousavi campaign). However, the streets of Tehran have not been blossoming green, but rather have been filled with ordinary, working class Iranians, Iranians who have no illusions with either faction of the Islamic regime. They realise that Mousavi as Prime Minister, just a few short years ago, killed more socialists, anarchists and communists than any other figure of authority within the Islamic Republic and like anyone else in the Iranian ruling class, offers nothing to Iranian workers. Iran is possibly the most clear case of an official Islamic country in the world, where the masses do not support political Islam and these protests have been testament to that fact. Despite brutal crackdowns on the demonstrations, every day since the results were announced has seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets from right across Iran. This is not the result of the elections, nor of Mousavi or any other part of the theocracy, rather this is catharsis on behalf of the Iranians having suffered brutal clerical rule for 30 years. Clashes with police and chants such as ‘Marg Bar Diktator’ (Death to the Dictator) echoing throughout Iran illustrate the clear discontent Iranian workers have not just with Ahmadinejad, but with the whole rotten theocracy.

What has not been on our television screens is the goings on inside the factories of Iran, the campuses of Iran and the oil fields. Here the working class of Iran has once again shown their volatility and the regime, knowing its enemies, has responded with typical barbarity. The week following the results for example saw militant leftist students organise demonstrations explicitly against both Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in favour a secular republic, political freedom and the smashing of the theocratic regime. In response (and away from the camera lenses of the BBC and CNN) many students have gone missing, dormitories in universities from all over Iran have been ransacked and unknown numbers of students have been beaten and arrested. This has been done by the Basjii (a voluntary paramilitary organisation who receive their orders from the Revolutionary Guard, mostly comprised of highly religious and ultraconservative thugs who see it as their duty to defend Supreme Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic) and although security forces moving into university premises is not new, recent days have brought previously unseen levels of repression against students. This has resulted in a student backlash – ever more determined to secure to death of the theocratic regime, complemented by the walk-out of staff (including in the most high-profile incident, 120 lecturers at Tehran university resigning after a raid on the campus).

These acts of resistance have not been isolated and have spread across Iran. Five days after the election for example, in response to the Iranian state’s repression, Medical staff at Tehran hospital went on strik. They were joined on the same day by workers from the Khodro car-manufacturing plant (who have a history of labour struggle and consequently have been long-suffering). Other workers including the bus workers (also known for their militancy) have been quick to issue statements of solidarity with student and workers protests against the Islamic regime. What is notable however is the almost complete omission of reference to the election that these workers have issued in their press releases. Instead the emphasis has been on their reluctance to suffer their exploitation and oppression at the hands of the theocracy any longer. In a potentially revolutionary development, recently there has also been talk of strikes from the oil field workers (this would, even if only temporarily, grind the Iranian economy to a halt and deal the theocracy a severe blow). When oil workers in Iran (workers who are subject to huge militarisation of their workplaces for obvious reasons) speak of strikes, there can be no doubt that these protests hold real potential.

Even with the world watching however the Iranian state has not been forgiving of protests be they peaceful or more militant. Ayatollah Khomeini has banned them and Basji and Revolutionary Guard police have done all they can to disperse them and so far reports of those killed in the protests range from 30 to 200. Whatever the number, it is set only to increase over the coming days and weeks. On 21st June a candle-lit vigil was held in Haft-e Tir Square, Tehran, for those killed in the protests, police response to the peaceful protest was brutal with beatings and police on motorbikes hitting attendees with batons. This shows the intolerance the regime has for opposition to its dictatorship. Further to this the website of the Revolutionary Guard says that ‘in the current sensitive situation the Guards will firmly confront… rioters and those who violate the law’. This follows from statements made by senior Guards who have promised to ‘crush’ protests should they continue. These statements are to be taken seriously as the history of the Islamic Republic shows that they don’t need an excuse to kill workers, militants and students and the militaristic response of the state seen so far will only worsen.

As anarchists we do not side with either faction of the Islamic ruling class in Iran as we know that any differences between them are superficial. After all some 80% of political power in Iran resides outside of elected bodies (such power is concentrated in mullahs, clerics and Ayatollahs – the Supreme Leader, Guardian Council and Council of Experts). Mousavi and Ahmadinejad scrapping over their relatively powerless position speaks volumes for the state of Iranian politics. So immersed in petty egoism and meaningless squabbles over the maintenance of the Islamic Republic are they, that they have given rise once again to the workers movement. What becomes of it remains to be seen.

We encourage all revolutionaries and internationalists to publicise the plight of Iranian workers and support them in their struggle against barbarism that has plagued them for 30 years (and of course against the ever looming threat of imperialist intervention).  ‘Marg Bar Diktator’