Once again on 14 February 2011 hundreds of thousands of brave young people came out on the streets of Iran. This time the demonstrations were in support of the struggles of the people of North African against their dictatorial regimes. However, the protests in Iran, like the protests in 2009 during the heady days of the ‘election’, were against the ruling clique. As in 2009, although the protests were called by Mousavi and Karroubi (leaders of the regime’s ‘reformist’ wing), the protesters were instead chanting radical slogans such as “Down with dictatorship” and “Mubarak! Ben Ali! Now it’s time for Seyed Ali! [meaning Khamenei]”.
In the current situation, when hundred of thousands of young people and different social layers have joined the struggles against despotic rule in Iran, it is important to see what the political perspectives in Iran are. In general there are two alternatives. The first alternative is the perspective of reforming the present regime. That means making some reforms from above (changing some figures in the regime) and some cosmetic changes from below. It also includes preparing to establish a long term relationship with imperialism (like Iran during the Shah’s period or Egypt under Mubarak). This view is held by the present ‘reformist’ leaders like Mousavi and Karroubi and the monarchists (supporters of the Shah’s regime), supporters of the Tudeh Party, and a variety of social democrats in exile.
Surely the eight-year experience of Mohammad Khatami’s government (who served as the fifth President of the Islamic Republic of Iran from August 2, 1997 to August 3, 2005) has shown that these reformist policies do not work as practical solutions in Iran. As for Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a candidate in the 2009 ‘presidential election’, his stint as Prime Minister from 1981 to 1989 was defined by massive repression at home and increasing confrontation abroad. Since June 2009 the Ahmadinejad-Khamenei wing of the regime has suppressed any opposition severely and now members of the Majles (parliament) are demanding the arrest and execution of these ‘reformist’ leaders.
The other alternative is the socialist alternative. That is to fight for radical change and long-term solutions to achieve not only civil, social and political liberties, but also economic freedom for the masses. This can only be achieved by preparing for the overthrow of the regime and establishing a workers’ government. This demand has objectively been posed as a slogan in Iran. During the 2009 demonstrations, and also the recent demonstration, we witnessed that when the masses were facing repression, and all other peaceful roads were closed to them, they broke their “silence” (as recommended by their ‘reformist’ leaders) and loudly chanted the slogans “Down with dictatorship” and “Down with the regime”. In other words, the overthrow of the capitalist state, as an alternative to the ‘reformists’, is in the present day consciousness of the masses.
Today’s central issue is the overthrow of the existing system. This is more and more tangible in the streets. Even defenders of the regime have admitted it on many occasions and are hence afraid of it happening. In addition, the deep economic crisis and the political differences within the ruling clique objectively pose this central demand. In other words, the coming period in Iran is the period of uprising and revolution. Bourgeois politicians, who today ask the people in the streets to be “silent” and “peaceful”, and not to question the whole system, are not serving the masses. One has to ask these ‘leaders’ this: why should the youth in the streets not have the democratic ‘right’ to defend themselves and fight to overcome the regime’s thugs?
Contrary to the views of social democrats and ‘reformists’, the revolution has its own logic. Organising a mass insurrection is an art. Class war, revolution, insurrection and the seizure of power all need extraordinary discipline so that all revolutionary forces are mobilised to overthrow the counter-revolutionary forces.
Workers and Revolution in Iran
The fundamental question to ask about the situation in Iran is this: does the Iranian working class have enough experience, knowledge and willingness to prepare for revolution and lead the majority of the oppressed layers to achieve it? I believe that the answer is yes.
Over 32 years ago, after many years of the ‘royal’ military dictatorship’s repression, the Iranian working class formed councils in a very short time during the downfall of the Shah and showed in practice that it has the adequate level of consciousness and organisational ability to stage a revolution. The rich experience of the Iranian working class in staging strikes and posing radical demands has shown that this class is very much alive and ready for fundamental change.
In other words, without the direct involvement and participation of this class, even if there are mass demonstrations in the streets, the downfall of the regime will not be guaranteed. Any upsurge will either be unsuccessful or will lead to chaos and replacement of the present regime with another bourgeois regime.
The bourgeoisie and imperialism
Another one of revolutionary Marxists’ principles is not to unite with traitors to the labour movement. The accumulated experiences of the labour movement throughout the world have taught us many times that unity with those who completely disregard the democratic rights of workers and toilers – and have even taken part in their repression, whether while in government or through spying and collaborating with the regime – cannot be tolerated.
There are those who say that we must take advantage of the internal divisions of the ruling clique, and at first, together with the reformists, oust the autocrats from power. Although there have always been differences and cracks within Iran’s bourgeoisie during the past few decades, however, we have under no circumstances seen the system as a whole being pushed to the brink. Even at the time of the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the bourgeoisie (along with the bulk of the army and SAVAK), to protect the general interests of capitalism, accepted a change in the regime and joined forces with Khomeini (of course, this was with the full agreement and under the supervision of imperialism).
Today it is no longer a secret that in the days before the revolution there took place secret negotiations between Beheshti (Khomeini’s representative) and the bazaar merchants (on behalf of the bourgeoisie) on the one hand, and the heads of the army and SAVAK (on behalf of the Iranian bourgeoisie) on the other hand, with General Robert E. Huyser (on behalf of American imperialism) acting as the arbitrator. There was also a deal to control the mass movement from above (by Khomeini). The subsequent events were the history of the defeat of the 1979 revolution. Just as different sections of the Iranian bourgeoisie agreed on the suppression of the labour movement in the past, they can agree to do the same in the future.
This assessment also applies to the Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Karroubi. In the heat of the most severe clashes between the masses (in their millions) with their oppressors, they were absent. During the protests on 14 February 2011 both leaders were absent. Their general and conservative remarks have motivated the masses to fight without their leadership. The ‘reformist’ leaders, like their counterparts in February 1979, will once again abandon the masses, and in order to “protect the system”, will cut a deal with Khamenei, or even, they themselves will become the future leaders of the regime so that the system continues to exist.
The history of contemporary revolutions and warfare has shown that the bourgeoisie (and imperialism) fear the working class and the mass movement of toilers more than they fear bourgeois dictators. This is because they can eventually cut a deal with a bourgeois tyrant, but that they will never make any compromise with the advancing forces of the working class (so long as capitalism survives, the main contradiction – the contradiction between labour and capital – is inevitable). If Mousavi calls on the people to resist the police, then he will not only put his own position in the system at risk, but he will also endanger the regime – because the logic of this resistance will lead to the overthrow of the entire system.
The tasks of revolutionary Marxists and the formation of a revolutionary Constituent Assembly
The duty of revolutionary Marxists, under any conditions, is to prepare to intervene in the labour movement. Revolutionary Marxists have no role other than to stand together with the workers and toilers. Whatever argument they use to justify themselves, those who stand side-by-side with traitors to the working class – like Mousavi – are not worthy of calling themselves ‘communist’.
According to the objective situation in Iran, there is only one alternative to solve society’s problems and overthrow the regime and begin a workers’ revolution. A revolutionary group should seek specific and focused contact with the clandestine action committees, in order to co-ordinate the preparation of strikes. Creating “workers’ socialist cells” for contact with the clandestine committees and preparing the ground for forming a “revolutionary vanguard party” is one of the main tasks of revolutionary Marxists in the coming period. Revolutionary Marxists must work together and alongside the vanguard workers to build and expand the clandestine action committees, otherwise their role in the Iranian revolution will be nothing but becoming puppets of the bourgeoisie.
As the ‘real’ perspective is a revolutionary perspective that rests on the workers’ and toilers’ councils, the basic task of revolutionary Marxists is to have a political orientation towards the workers’ vanguard in order to prepare for the next revolution. Revolutionary preparation includes specific activities within this layer and preparing the appropriate foundation for the seizure of power and replacing the bourgeois state with a workers’ state. At the same time, careful, detailed and focused planning for the transition from the present society to the future revolutionary society and state are important and vital basic factors. To achieve these goals in a situation without an organised and democratic labour movement, and the absence of a revolutionary vanguard party, the struggle for a mass general strike and convening a revolutionary and democratic constituent assembly are on the agenda of the anti-capitalist movement. Obviously the basic strategy of revolutionary Marxists is not to convene a constituent assembly. The strategy of revolutionary Marxists is to form a workers’ government. Our slogan on the type of government can only be forming a ‘soviet government’. In the absence of success in forming a ‘soviet government’ and when a ‘provisional’ non-workers’ government is being imposed by other layers in society (the current situation this is true of Tunisia and Egypt), the fight for the convocation of a ‘democratic and revolutionary constituent assembly’ is on the agenda.
The historical experience of the Russian Revolution shows that Lenin and the Bolsheviks posed the convening of a Constituent Assembly when the pre-capitalist government (the Tsar) was in power, and the convening of a Constituent Assembly by the provisional government after the overthrow of the Tsar could have paved the way for the formation of a workers’ state afterwards. And as the formation of the Constituent Assembly, as it was in the Bolsheviks’ programme, they agreed to it. But in practice the assembly opposed the soviets and was dissolved. But it could have continued. Because the workers’ state, whose power is based on a majority of votes in the workers’ councils, must not be afraid of such an assembly being formed.
But if the workers and poor peasants were not able to form a soviet government; then at that point, the slogan calling for the convening of a democratic and revolutionary constituent assembly would be a principled one. After the overthrow of authoritarian governments, if the soviet government (based on workers’ and poor peasants’ councils) is not formed, due to the lack of preparation of workers’ councils or the absence of a broad revolutionary vanguard party as the organiser of the labour movement (as is the case in Tunisia and Egypt), revolutionary Marxists must not participate in any other government (which will certainly be bourgeois – even the most democratic). However, at this point (and only when a soviet government has not been formed successfully), they should call for the convening of a democratic and revolutionary constituent assembly (which is not a constituent assembly in the ordinary bourgeois parliamentary sense). This will be a constituent assembly that does not accept any organ, organisation and individual standing above it, will be scrutinised by the armed forces of the masses and will be established by the real representatives of people through their direct, universal, secret and free vote.
This assembly will begin its activities by preparing the formation of a revolutionary government (of workers and peasants). With the formation of a workers’ government, representatives of the workers and poor peasants and their parties will participate in the assembly independently. Of course, this assembly will not be a ‘government’, but will be a gathering or institution for writing the ‘constitution’ and forming the future workers’ government. Participating in such an assembly is different from being in a bourgeois government. Representatives of the working class, the councils of the workers, peasants, women, oppressed nationalities and other non-proletarian layers and allies of the working class, will need a breathing space to convince the whole of society to accept their revolutionary programme.
The formation of a revolutionary and democratic constituent assembly will create the breathing space needed so that the oppressed layers of society realise the necessity of forming a workers’ government based on a soviet republic.
16 February 2011