Iranian regime increases repression – step up international solidarity with the street protests and strikes!

Students of Amir Kabir university protest against Hijab, September 2022 (CC/public domain)

The revolutionary youth movement in Iran has been going on for well over two months. In these 11 weeks, more than 18,000 people have been arrested and more than 400 murdered by the regime.

Now a three day strike has been called from December 5 to 7, to rally the movement and effectively show the brutal authoritarian regime the strength of the opposition. First reports speak of shops closed and lorry drivers striking in 40 cities and towns. This can be seen as both a rejection of the regime, whose attempts to drown the movement in blood are not having the effect they hoped for, and a mobilisation for stepping up the struggle against the regime.

Just a month ago, on November 6, 227 of the 290 members of parliament called on the courts to crack down on the protesters, which, so far, resulted in death sentences being given to five people for their involvement in the protests. But it seems that far from intimidating the movement it has given it a boost, with reports that the coming days will see a new wave, including strikes. Then, just before the new protest wave, the Iranian attorney general said that the ‘morality police’, which had been patrolling the streets since 2006 to enforce the dress code on women, would be dissolved. He did not say that the 1983 law which laid these rules would be repealed.

Clearly the strength of this ongoing movement has started to divide the regime as it sees that it cannot simply continue to rule in the same way as before and is split over what to do; two developments which are signs of a revolutionary situation emerging. This is now being seen in the attempts by sections of the government and official Iranian media to downplay the attorney general’s statement. Sections of the population understand this. The BBC quoted a woman’s comments on the dissolution of the ‘morality police’: “a revolution is what we have. Hijab was the start of it and we don’t want anything, anything less, but death for the dictator and a regime change.”

It would be wrong to take one minister’s speech as marking a fundamental change. Whether or not this announcement is a change is not clear, it could be that, as before 2006, other forces like the regular police or the paramilitary Basij militia, enforce it. But the movement is not simply about clothing rules but against a rotten regime and all forms of oppression against women, national minorities and the working class. Thus, both in Iran itself, and internationally, protests still need to continue demanding an end to all executions, freedom for all political prisoners and an end to repression. The importance of this was the rapid way in which the attorney’s statement was not the government’s policy.

At this moment, it is not clear what role the newly formed councils of revolutionary youth and women have played in the campaigning for this new wave of protests. Clearly there has been an ongoing debate on the question of a general strike. Western journals, like the Financial Times and The Economist, have carried articles on the debate and tried to explain why, up to now,  there has not been a general strike.

For some time we have argued that a time limited general strike would be an important next step. A successful stoppage would demonstrate the real balance of power in the country, showing the mass opposition to and relative weakness of the regime. To continue the movement after December 7th, a joining of forces between the youth and women’s councils and the already existing semi-legal unions and workers’ organisations would be a concrete step. Bodies on the lines of the ‘Resistance Committees’ that have developed in the Sudanese struggle against military rule could provide a venue for discussion on the next steps while also organising protests and their defence from the security forces. With the current social situation in Iran, such a strategy can lead to the unorganized sections of the working class joining forces with the organised forces.

It was very important that, for example, the Haft Tappeh Workers’ Union has issued a statement explaining how they organized their union and workers’ council. This can be used to explain to other workers and society, as a whole, how to organize independently of the capitalist and clerical ruling class in Iran. But going beyond that such declarations can be combined with explaining that such independent working class organisation is also necessary to carry out effective mass national actions, including a mass-based general strike.

Between November 16 to 19th, there were again increased protests throughout Iran. Before that, there was a certain ebb in the movement, which meant less widespread protests. In this phase, protests mainly took place at the universities of the country. Here, the students showed once again that they play a prominent role in the movement. In addition, the workers of the iron smelting company in Isfahan went on strike on November 11 in solidarity with the protest movement.  Whether this will continue is not known to us at the moment. 

Repression

In the night between November 19 and 20th, the mainly Kurdish city of Mahabad in West Azerbaijan saw its electricity and internet completely cut off as state forces moved in with tanks and heavy equipment and began house to house searches. This was a reaction to the city, igniting when massive demonstrations took place in the funeral ceremonies for those who had been killed during previous protests resulting in the expulsion of the regime’s repressive forces from the city. Since then, the regime, in the style of a foreign army, has begun to occupy the entire Kurdish populated areas with forces of  the (counter) Revolutionary Guards.

When news of this spread and the revolutionary youth movement heard about it there were spontaneous marches in many cities trying to prevent the regime carrying out mass murder in Mahabad. How successful this has been will become apparent in the coming days. But it shows that the movement can be more organized by founding the revolutionary councils of youth and women and any other democratic structures. Since then, there have been declarations of solidarity and protests declaring solidarity with the Kurdish population. Inside and outside Iran, support needs to be mobilized for the immediate withdrawal of all regime troops from the streets of the province of Kurdistan and throughout Iraq.

This week’s strike could mark a new stage opening up, possibly beginning to pose a direct challenge to the continuing rule of this section of the ruling class and, by implication, the capitalist regime, as a whole.

Already in recent years, struggles by Iranian workers have begun to challenge capitalism, with demands for renationalisation of privatised industries and for workers’ control. Now the events of the recent weeks are leading to a new radicalisation. Mid-November saw the circulation of a statement by various student and revolutionary youth organisations from across Iran:

“We stand together, because only through this unity will the final victory of our revolution be possible!

Workers, teachers, retirees, farmers, nurses, doctors and, in a word, all those who share our grievances: the glorious time to become one, our time to unite, has come. We all already understand that this government does not represent the people of our country! We resisted whatever they told us to do; we did not bow down to the regime, the Sharia ruler, or its many tools of repression.

“We students shouted: ‘We are the children of the workers, we will stay side by side with them.’ A fire inside us burned when we heard the news of the oil strikes. We could not sleep when the teachers were brazenly called ‘spies’. When the farmers’ right to water was taken away and they came under fire from the security forces, it was like we were being shot also. We university students of medical science felt as though we died along with doctors and nurses when they said, ‘the Basij and the mullahs will show the medical staff how to deal with COVID-19!’ When the ‘morality police’ beat women, we students actively removed the hijab to say: We do not accept subjugation, and Inequality must be ended! Yes, we have been and are with you, because we know that either we will all be free, or none of us will! Because the freedom of each of us is tied to the freedom of all of us.

“Wherever we have been able, we have raised our fists along with the oppressed and exploited: we regard their victories as our victory, and their defeat as our own defeat! But now it is time for the final battle. Now it is time for every movement to unite with the popular revolution, to be turned into a terrible threat to the regime.

“We are sure that you also consider yourself entirely aligned with the current revolution, that you are among its founders, and you gave everything to the field of struggle. You have been and are present on the streets, you have supported the revolutionary movement of the people and participated in the revolution in many ways. We know the place and value of the teachers’ strike; the treatment of the wounded of the revolution by the medical staff; the significant presence of workers in the struggle; and the solidarity of the drivers, photographers, shopkeepers and all other sectors in our people’s revolution.

“Now it is time to take another step forward. We, university and school students all over the country, ask you to implement decisive strike and protest measures at a national level to accompany the protests at this stage of our revolution. Our revolution needs your active presence and decisive role to create a nationwide strike.

“Undoubtedly, we will celebrate the victory of this revolution together. That day is near and we hope to realise a free, equal, prosperous society for all; a secular and humane society; we will not retreat an inch until we achieve our aspirations.”

Tabriz Student Coalition,

Isfahan Progressive Students,

Organisation of Revolutionary Students of Tehran

Students from:

Khorasan Azad University, University of Research Sciences,

Yadgar Imam Azad University,

Mahabad Azad University,

Ashrafi Isfahani University,

Isfahan University,

Payam Noor Shahr Ray University

Tabriz University

Isfahan University of Medical Sciences

Sanandaj University of Medical Sciences

Isfahan University of Technology

University of Kurdistan

Students of Koi Talab schools in Mashhad

Students of schools in the Imam area of Yazd

Mamsani Conservatory students

Conservatory students in Semnan

Hakim Sabzevari Sabzevar University

Significantly, this statement showed that the signatory groups and organizations established a clear and positive relationship to the struggles of the impoverished Iranian workers and peasants, as well as the organised working class. Very significantly they called on the working class to go on strike. This is an important development, although this call should have been addressed more concretely to the already existing syndicates (trade unions) and organised sections of the working class. These sections could set an example because, firstly, they already have experience of going on strike and, secondly, they can help the non-organized sections of the working class to move into action. If bodies like the Resistance Committees in Sudan already existed in Iran they could be the focal point for organising.

A statement by the Syndicate of Workers of Haft Tappeh, which was first published on October 3rd, explained the problems in organising independent workers’ organisations and how they themselves have managed to build such a structure. Since it is becoming more and more necessary that such syndicates and broader bodies are built up, so that a well-organized general strike does not only remain a topic of conversation but can finally become a reality. When such an action completely stops the regime in its tracks it will raise the question of who actually has the power in the country and capital – the regime’s clerical supporters or the working class.

In our opinion, such a general strike should unite the various democratic, social, economic and demands for equal treatment of women. Here, too, the workers of Haft Tappeh have shown how it can be done. They added their slogan ‘Work, bread, freedom’ to the main slogan of the current movement, ‘Woman, Life Freedom’, thus showing that a common struggle is not only necessary but also possible.

 The organised working class seems to have needed a certain amount of time to adapt to the new situation of direct confrontation with the regime. It is all the more important to point out that there have already been joint strikes and that the experience gained in these struggles should be applied to the current situation. For example, there were the “Khuzestan Protests (link in Farsi): Khuzestan: has been the centre of labour militancy since 2017 with the workers of Haft Tapeh sugarcane company at the forefront. The most significant aspects of these protests have been: demand for a return to state ownership, formation of a workers’ council to supervise production, broad community support from retired workers and students, and coordination of strikes, particularly with Ahvaz steel workers. Many Khuzestan protest leaders, and journalists such as Sepideh Qolian, have been arrested and harshly tortured.”

(‘Council power in the Iranian labor movement’, The Tempest, 19th November 2020

https://www.tempestmag.org/2020/11/council-power-in-the-iranian-labor-movement/)

These experiences of common struggle should be taken into account, as well as the strike waves of 2020 and 2021, which were also and especially supported by sections of the workers in the oil and petrochemical industries. (see https://www.socialistworld.net/2020/09/04/strike-wave-marks-new-stage-in-revival-of-iranian-workers-movement/ and https://www.socialistworld.net/2021/07/07/iranoil-and-gas-workers-strikes-greets-new-president/)

This path could be followed by the 15 workers’ organisations that published a joint statement on May 1st, last year, calling for strikes and protests and adding a call for other workers to organise where there are no own organisations yet and to participate where there are already class-independent organizations. Such a courageous step could bring the movement in Iran forward, as it can gradually develop into a movement for a general strike within the working class. Of course, such a strike and protest campaign should also include structures that were not involved in the statement on May 1st, 2021. Such a common platform could, in our view, be used to organise a national cross-sectoral trade union alliance.

Furthermore, events mean that the discussion about the building of a revolutionary leadership, which is openly taking place amongst the revolutionary socialist left of Iran, will necessarily need to discuss both the questions of the programme and the building of a revolutionary socialist party that can fight to win support for the idea of a socialist revolution.

As the regime gets closer to the edge there will be more and more attempts to ensure that capitalism in Iran itself is not threatened. The fact that top supporters of the Islamic Republic, especially the so-called ‘Revolutionary Guards’, established a firm grip over many sections of the Iranian economy mean that there are other Iranian capitalists, or would-be capitalists, that see the overthrow of the regime giving them the chance to get rich. Such elements will do all that they can to keep the revolution within capitalism, something which the imperialist powers will support.

This is why the CWI has consistently argued: “The workers’ movement needs to set its own agenda, a socialist agenda which combines together the immediate demands with the need to break with capitalism so that the working class and power can begin the socialist reconstruction of society. Today, the revolution needs to seize the opportunity to do this and not limit itself to only ending the decades-long repression by the counter-revolution that pushed the working masses aside and seized power after the mass revolt that ended the Shah’s dictatorial rule…

“The continuation of capitalism means that the fundamental issues facing Iran will not be answered. Inevitably, class struggles will break out, as the interests of the capitalists and the working class come into conflict. If the capitalist power is not broken this would pose the danger of counter-revolution, probably not on the same lines as 1979-80, but possibly like in Egypt in 2013, as the ruling class moves to secure its position.”

This means that the workers’ movement, the poor and the revolutionary youth must stand for the replacement of the present regime by a provisional government made up of representatives of the working class, youth and poor. This government would immediately take action to implement the revolution’s basic demands and begin the socialist transformation of Iran, which would have an international echo, not just in the Middle East, but worldwide.

 

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