Iran: Strikes and protests shake regime

THE LAST four weeks have witnessed mass protests in Iran as thousands have taken to the streets in opposition to the government of Mohammed Khatami.

The recent events were sparked off by government plans to privatise certain sections of university facilities. The protests, reflecting the palpable anger in society, developed into anti-regime protests as thousands took to the streets to show their anger at the lack of democratic rights and the failure of the government to deliver a decent standard of living for the ordinary people of Iran. The brutal crack down by the regime, using vigilantes to break up the protests, only served to strengthen the resolve of the demonstrators as the protests spread to other cities in Iran. One protester has been killed in the southern city of Shiraz and over 4,000 people have been arrested.

Iranian society is extremely polarised at present and it has not just been students who have taken action. Over the last six months or so, there have been dozens of strikes involving thousands of workers. Workers at the largest gas refinery have organised symbolic walkouts in support of democratic rights. In the latest of a series of strikes, industrial action by teachers closed 50% of schools for several days. Even the Bazaars – the traditional base of support for the regime – have organised a series of one day shutdowns in support of democratic demands. These actions have also affected sections of the regime itself. Almost two thirds of the members of parliament have signed a petition demanding constitutional change. The three Grand Ayatollahs of Iran have come out publicly and stated their support for the students’ demands. Another Ayatollah has branded the regime as "an enemy of Islam and humanity".

The revolution which overthrew the Shah, one of the worlds’ most brutal dictators, sent a shot across the barricades which struck fear into the heart of imperialism internationally. However, this revolution did not result in the people themselves taking power as a result of the shameful role played by the Communist Party who, instead of arguing for the setting up of a democratic socialist Iran, tailended the Mullahs and supported the Ayatollah Khomeni.

However, the Islamic fundamentalism of today lacks even the veneer of the "radical" Islam of the 1970s – 80s. Then, political Islam was forced to rely on the working class for support and as a result its programme was peppered with radical populism. In the early days of the Ayatollah’s regime, the clerics had to tread carefully, fearing a revolt of the working class. The regime was forced to go a lot further than it wanted to, such as the nationalisation of the oil sector and huge swathes of the economy.

Bush has labelled Iran as one of its rogue states. He has attacked Iran for meddling in Iraq. The SCIRI (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq), an Iranian backed organisation, has been singled out as a perpetrator of attacks on US forces. Iran has also been reprimanded for continuing with its alleged nuclear weapons programme. Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas has also enraged the US. Khatami has publicly lashed out at the role of US imperialism in the region, stating that "we will defend Syria" and that Tehran would not recognise a US-installed administration in Iraq. Bush wants another regime change!

The Bush regime will attempt to build alliances with "moderate" Islamic forces in Iran in an attempt to bring about a new government that is less hostile to the US. This does not rule out the prospect of military action at some stage if this regime change is not forthcoming. However, with US forces becoming more bogged down in Iraq, there is a major question mark over the ability of the US to even contemplate invading Iran.

It is now possible that the Khatami regime, faced with the combined opposition of the working class, students, leading clerics, the majority of parliament and even the cabinet, may be removed in the next period and replaced with a more "liberal" government. However, this new government will eventually come up against the same opposition from the working class and youth if it continues with Khatami’s neo-liberal agenda. If an answer to the problems facing society is to be found, a mass party of the working class, armed with a socialist programme, must be built to lead these movements.

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July 2003