Interview with exiled socialist students
On 4 November, tens of thousands gathered on the streets in Tehran in opposition to the Iranian regime. The slogan, "Down with the dictatorship!" was heard, alongside a huge display of banners. Many people had waited for an opportunity to go onto the streets. The June movement, which involved as many as three million people, was temporarily silenced by the repression but it has now been reborn.
Above all, it is youth, who make up 60% of the population, who take every opportunity to participate in mass actions against the regime. Socialist students, Anahita Hosseini and Parisa Nasrabadi, who took part in the summer’s movement before they were forced to flee the country, give their view of the 4 November protests, below.
"See you on the streets"
"Mobilisations started two months before, with underground posters and graffiti saying, ’See you on the streets 4 November’. The posters stated that every date the regime wants to commemorate, as with 4 November, they should be met with protests. Demonstrations were not only in Tehran, but also in Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabrize and other cities.
"Most slogans shouted were ’down with the dictatorship’. Several were also directed against the Islamic Republic and its ’supreme leader’. For example, protesters said, ’Khamenei murderer’ and referred to his son: ’Mojtaba, we hope you die and never replace your father’. Other protesters said: ’Free the political prisoners’ and ’Someone saying he is fair is a murderer’, which was directed at ’president’ Ahmadinejad. Demonstrators also shouted ’As long as Ahmadinejad remains, every day will be like this’.
"It’s mainly the youth that are prepared for new struggle, and they were attacked brutally by the police", says Parisa, who has just been in touch with her comrades in Iran.
"This was the biggest protest since the mass movement. Even if smaller than in June, it’s a new important stage showing the movement is alive. Those participating now a really prepared to fight", says Anahita.
They continue: "Those who came out were well prepared on what they would meet, they were prepared for police attacks, prepared to be arrested, and even torture or death. But they were above all prepared to fight back. When attacked the crowd shouted ’Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, we are all united now’.
"During the demonstrations, comrades reported about gun shots, tear gas was shot at demonstrators and the police used batons and knifes. Many were wounded and we don’t know if anyone was killed.
"No-one was shocked by the police attacks, but tried to organise in a way to avoid them. They also showed preparedness to answer the violence and confronting the police and to rapidly get away”
Repression and executions
Demonstrations surged over streets and the demonstrators moved fast to avoid road blocks and attacks. Overall, tens of thousands took part, even if it is difficult to give an exact number.
Parisa says 400 demonstrators were taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, on 4 November. At the same time, executions have increased since the mass movement in the summer and many young people are waiting on prison death row to be hanged.
"Iran is second after China in [numbers] using the death penalty; per capita, it is number one. They execute young people publicly to scare activists into silence", says Anahita.
"But the executioners of the Islamic republic have committed murders for 30 years. In 1988 alone, 38,000 political activists were killed; it’s nothing new [see note below on the 1988 massacres – Editors]. These executions will not scare the population, what we see are not isolated protests any longer, it’s the beginning of a movement", says Parisa.
Both Anahita and Parisa have comrades in prison. They were arrested in their homes and are now held in isolation without access to lawyers. Other protesters have been killed in prisons – tortured to death. Activists have disappeared and been found murdered outside Tehran city.
Many students are awaiting trial. Anahita was awaiting trial when she was forced to leave the country. It should have started this month, but as she had experience of Iranian prisons, she decided to escape.
"My family will be forced to pay $80,000 (US dollars) if I don’t turn up at the trial", she tell says.
Anahita and Parisa agree in their judgement of the current situation in Iran. The most important task is to take every opportuity to challenge the regime. The protests will continue, particularly at the universities and among youth.
The losing president candidate, Mousavi, has started to retreat. Its important that the mass opposition movement can start to move away from the ’reformist’ leaders, becoming more independent.
Strikes and workers’ struggle
Oil pipeline workers were on strike last month and got massive support from people, in general. They had not been paid for five months and took action. Their situation is common for many workers, so others supported their struggle and some also went on strike. The support for the oil workers was more active than in previous strikes and the number of industrial disputes is increasing.
But the fear of the regime of the working class has also led to increased pressure on leading worker-activists. Sugar mill workers’ leaders, Fereydoon Nikoufar and Jalil Ahmadi, at the Haft Tapeh plant, where the workers have organised themselves, have been arrested.
"Worker activists establishing committees for self-organisation – e, komite peigiri – have been sentenced to prison, among them Mohamad Ashrafi."
"Young workers are part of the movement on the streets, but, so far, only as youth, not not as a class. That is one of the reasons the movement is not advancing faster, that workers are not participating as united force", says Anahita. She continues, "The problem is lack of leadership, there is no leadership today. Workers are not accepting the reformist leaders, but have no other. With a revolutionary leadership, the situation would change rapidly."
"The true potential of the working class have not been shown yet. It is the only class that can continue the struggle for freedom for everyone. It workers get involved as a class it will radicalise the movement enormously".
Workers and women
As socialists, Anahita and Parisa emphasise the strength of the working class and they also notice a radicalisation among workers, based on their material conditions, including unpaid wages and increased food prices.
The textile industry in Iran is bankrupt. The reason is the economic crisis but also price dumping from China. Many workers have already lost their jobs. This has bred a new radicalisation among the unemployed who have formed committees. Here is the potential for a mass protest movement.
The most radical layers in society in Iran today are women workers. Many women play a leading role in the movement, conscious about the risks for imprisonment, rape, torture etc.
"Workers have everything to gain and nothing to lose from the struggle. Many are forced to have two jobs to survive and others have not received their wages for up to two years. We went to northern Iran and workers told us they stayed with the companies because if they left they would never get their wages, but if they stayed there was a chance.
"What can overthrow the regime is a general strike movement. But the problem today is the lack of independent workers’ organisation. The time has come to coordinate present struggles and announce a united independent organisation to develop the struggle and the movement.
"What is needed is a honest workers’ leadership and organisation of the class. Then the entire women, youth and workers’ movement can challenge the regime in a serious way. Then the days of the regime are numbered".
[Editor’s Note: The 1988 executions of Iranian political prisoners, referred to by Parisa above, took place across Iran, starting on 19 July 1988 and lasting about five months. The main targets were the members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI), although political prisoners from other groups were also included, such as the Fedaian Khalq and Tudeh Party of Iran (Communist Party). Estimates of the number executed vary from below 10,000 to over 30,000].