Iran: Cuts, corruption and the campaign for the freedom of political prisoners

President Raisi's regime cuts subsidies for imported food in May, leading to protests (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Iran has not been at rest since the beginning of 2022. Amongst the protesters were teachers who, under the leadership of the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations, led a campaign of protests and strikes, which included a nationwide mobilisation on May 1. This was followed by a movement in mid-May against cuts in subsidies for imported food and shortly afterwards protests against the collapse of a high-rise complex in the city of Abadan. In many ways, these represent a new stage in the struggles and movements that have been taking place since 2017. Arising from this there is a need for a widespread discussion on programmatic and organisational proposals to advance this movement.

In early May, the Iranian regime, under the political leadership of President Raisi, cut food subsidies. From around 12 May protests against these cuts broke out across the country. These erupted in several cities of the Khuzestan region, including Izeh, Defzul, Shadegan and Andimeshk, and after a very short period of time, they spread all over the country. This development illustrates how explosive the situation in Iran has become.

The prices of oil for cooking, chicken, milk and eggs rose abruptly by about 300%. This is due on the one hand to the subsidy cuts and on the other to the out-of-control inflation of at least 100%.

Internationally there needs to be solidarity with this struggle of the majority of the Iranian population, supporting the demand for the reintroduction of the subsidies. At the same time, wages must be constantly adjusted to make up for the continuing rise in inflation and for a minimum wage from which workers can live a good life.

The Islamic regime has again reacted to this uprising with massive repression. There have been more deaths again and many have been imprisoned. In addition, the regime has sporadically made access to the internet more difficult or completely shut it down. Again, this underscores the importance of the demand for freedom for all political prisoners in Iran but also again shows the need for a country-wide organisation of struggles.

In this regard, the teachers’ union, which has been fighting for the liberation of all its imprisoned members for months, sets an example. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 69 activists from the teachers’ union were arrested between April 2021 and April 2022. Just to defeat such attacks and to win the movement’s broad demands a nationwide organising body is needed to bring together and organise workers across sectors. Such a body could be modelled on the nationwide teachers’ organising council and other attempts to link struggles together. Support of this international solidarity, especially for the demands for political and trade union freedom in Iran, can play an important role in boosting the struggle in Iran.

The collapse of two high-rise blocks in Abadan

Shortly after the movement against the cut in food subsidies was ended by the repression by the regime, a fatal accident occurred in the city of Abadan. Over 40 people were killed when two ten-storey high-rise blocks of the Metropol Twin Towers Complex collapsed, one on May 23 and the other the very next day, May 24. The second high rise that collapsed was still under construction. This high-rise complex belonged to Hossein Abdol-Baghi, one of the richest men in the city. Authorities say he died in the collapse, but many in Abadan do not believe that and say the authorities helped him get out of the city.

Quickly slogans against corruption and other forms of fraud were raised by protesters. For example, there are allegations that the construction of the two high-rise buildings was botched and that no safety measures were included with the buildings themselves. Up to 100 people are said to have died and more were injured when the high rises collapsed.

The regime reacted to this incident in various ways. Firstly, the regime took far too long to initiate relief measures and Iran’s ‘supreme’ leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not immediately respond. However, within hours of the collapse, there was a massive increase in the number of security forces in the area. Later some city officials, including the city’s mayor, were arrested and imprisoned as, so to speak, scapegoats.

However, these steps did not prevent protests. It was rather the case that the population more or less organised the rescue of the buried themselves and, at the same time, took to the streets evening after evening to protest. These protests were, as always, met with violence by the regime’s Basji units and again dozens of arrests were made. There are reports that members of some Arab tribes in the region who carried weapons joined the protests. This seems to have prevented the security forces from using live ammunition against demonstrators. The protesters demanded an investigation into the allegations of corruption and the failure of the regime to deal with the collapse of the high-rises.

Such was the anger that an emissary sent by Khamenei was shouted down by a crowd when he tried to speak.  This was caught on live TV until the broadcast was abruptly ended. Slogans, such as, “Death to the dictator/dictatorship”, were also shouted at the demonstrations. This shows that it is clear to the people that the regime’s rule, whether the “reformist” or “hardline” wing, has to be ended and that the regime’s base is being increasingly undermined.

The movement has the task of both dealing with immediate issues, like the impact of the Metropol Twin Towers Complex, and, more fundamentally, the dictatorship.

In order to investigate the allegations of corruption and the failure of the regime concerning the Abadan disaster, it is necessary to elect democratic bodies composed of those affected, trade unionists and popular organisations that can carry out an open, public investigation. To find out the extent of the corruption involved in this case, the accounts and all other money transfers of Hossein Abdol-Baghi and the imprisoned city officials must be publically disclosed and made available for public examination.

These sorts of steps, together with the building of a nationwide body bringing together workers and other popular opposition forces, raise the question of what should come after the fall of the regime.

There is absolutely no doubt that once the current regime collapses there will be immediate calls for ‘unity’ to consolidate democracy etc. Of course, socialists strive to build the unity of working people but that is different from unity with capitalists at home or abroad. Time and time again, revolutions have failed, or even been brutally crushed, when workers’ organisations have tried to work with capitalists and therefore have accepted the continuation of the capitalist system. The one time that this did not happen was in the 1917 Russian revolution when the Bolsheviks refused to join a coalition with capitalist parties and instead campaigned for the revolution to become a socialist one. To win support for the argument that the key to solving Iran’s crisis is for the regime to be replaced by a socialist democracy, it is central that a mass workers’ party is founded and built on the basis of a socialist programme.

The first steps towards the formation of such a party could come into being within the framework of the formation of cross-sector workers’ organisations locally, regionally and nationally. Clearly, at the moment, the main axes of its programme would be against the impact of inflation, the enforcement of a living minimum wage, full democratic and workers’ rights, release of all political and trade union prisoners, the right to organise, and full rights for all the nationalities within Iran, alongside the explanation of the need for a workers’ and poor peoples’ government that will break with capitalism.

In this way, national coordination could organise the unionised workers and the repeatedly erupting movements in Iran under one roof and develop these struggles. The putting forward of timely calls for demonstrations and strikes, including general strikes, when appropriate, can develop the repeated and increasingly militant struggles in a revolutionary socialist direction.


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