‘Charter’ of independent unions & civil organizations a step forward, but consistent anti-capitalist, socialist approach required

Uprising in Tehran, Keshavarz Boulvard September 2022 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Early March saw demonstrations across Iran in protest at the apparent chemical attacks against female students that have taken place since last November. This seems to be an organised attempt to intimidate young women who have been at the forefront of the mass opposition the regime has faced since last September’s death of Jina (Mahsa) Amini at the hands of the ‘morality police’.

On February 16 and February 17, there were widespread protests marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for Mohammad Mehdi Karimi and Sayed Mohammad Hosseini. These two were executed for their involvement in the ‘Jina uprising’ – the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement that has gripped Iran for nearly six months. The February protests took place in Tehran, Karaj, Mashhad, Isfahan, Qazvin, Rasht, Arak, Izeh and Sanandaj.

While apparently not as large as some of the previous protests, they did show the continuing impact of the Jina Uprising. Despite ups and downs, the scope of February and March’s protests, and the continuation of the revolutionary youth movement, reflect the underlying anger and opposition to the regime. The regime was already unpopular before this movement, as shown in the mass abstentions of its so-called ‘elections’.

Now there is no way back for the regime to the situation before Jina (Mahsa) Amini’s death; Iran has changed.

This is reflected in the deepening divisions within the Iranian ruling class and tensions within its state apparatus. An example is the massive criticism from the ranks of the (counter) ‘Revolutionary Guards’ about its soldiers’ too-low salaries, especially of the Basji militia. They earn on average only about 300 USD per month, which is a quarter of the salary of the fighters of the Iranian-funded Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Revolutionary Guards, and, in particular, the Basij militia under their command, have played a central role in attempts to limit and suppress the revolutionary youth movement. So far, at least 529 people have died, and at least 20,000 arrested, although some have been released. While socialists argue that the so-called (counter) Revolutionary Guards and all militia forces under them must be dissolved – not simply ‘reformed’ or renamed – and that all resources and economic enterprises belonging to them must be put under the democratic control and administration of the Iranian workers and poor, the criticism of these forces of the regime is significant.

Moreover, this division is also evident between the so-called ‘reformers’ and the so-called ‘hardliners’ within the ruling elite. In particular, the politician Mousavi, who has been under house arrest for more than 10 years, is publicly in favour of a change of regime. It must be emphasised that the so-called reformists who are still actively involved in the political process all stand as a bulwark for the preservation of the regime. They mainly speak out for limited changes, for example, ending the obligation to wear the hijab, but they do not pursue the overthrow of the regime.

This makes it all the more important that the developing movement adopts the clear objective of a complete break with the regime and its system; it is significant that for months independent groups and organisations are forming that call for an overthrow of the regime.

Some of these groups are also taking positions on what to do after the regime’s fall. Material is circulating outlining steps that can be taken. An inevitable process of discussion and clarification is taking place, drawing lessons from the recent experience of struggle and debating what programme the movement should have. The CWI has argued that it is crucial to start a process of building a new mass workers party with a socialist programme.

While arguing for a socialist programme the CWI understands that, at first, the new organisations may start to develop with a more limited programme, which would be for both activity and continued discussion. The publication in February of the “Charter of minimum demands”, supported by 20 organisations, could serve as one of the starting points for such a development. While not an overall programme it has many positive points.

In saying this, we do not want to brush aside the complaint of the Syndicate of Bus Drivers of Tehran, a longstanding workers’ organisation with a history of struggle and facing repression, that, while supporting the Charter demands, they were only asked to sign the Charter and not discuss its content when it was being drawn up.

More significantly the Syndicate criticised that the Charter did not “specifically mention the key role of the working class and working and hardworking families …etc. in the fight against the capitalist system and its government, as well as the fate of all-round class struggle in any fundamental and liberating transformation in Iran”.

Correctly, this did not mean that the Syndicate refused to work with the organisations backing the Charter but clearly this important discussion will continue.

This issue of how to link together and combine immediate demands with the programme of socialist revolution has confronted the workers’ movement for well over a century. In Russia, the Bolsheviks in the words of two of their best-known slogans in the 1917 revolution, “Peace, Bread, Land” and “All Power to the Soviets”, summed up this approach. Lenin elaborated on it in his 1917 pamphlet ‘The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It’, a forerunner of the Transitional Programme that Trotsky wrote in 1938.

It is in this spirit that we publish both the Charter, below, followed by our commentary on the text.

Woman, Life, Freedom

Charter of minimum demands of independent trade union and civil organizations of Iran

Noble and free people of Iran!

On the 44th anniversary of the 1979 revolution, the economic, political and social foundations of society are in an unprecedented crisis. Within the existing political system, it is impossible and inconceivable to imagine an attainable vision for solving this crisis.

For this reason, the oppressed people of Iran – including women and youth striving for freedom and equality – have transformed the streets of the entire country into centres of a historic and decisive struggle to end the existing inhumane conditions. Despite the regime’s bloody crackdown, they have continued to fight for five months since 16 September 2022 without a pause for breath.

The flag of fundamental protests raised today by women, students, teachers, workers, activists, artists, writers and the oppressed people of Iran in various parts of the country, from Kurdistan to Sistan and Baluchistan has attracted unprecedented international support. It is a protest against misogyny, gender discrimination, endless economic insecurity, labour slavery, poverty, misery, class oppression, ethnic and religious oppression, and a revolution against every form of religious and non-religious tyranny that has been imposed on us – the vast majority of the people of Iran – for more than a century.

The protests are taking place against the backdrop of large and modern social movements and the rise of an invincible generation determined to put an end to a century-long history of backwardness and marginalisation and fight for a modern, prosperous and free society in Iran.

After the two great revolutions in Iran’s modern history, now the leading social movements, including the labour movement, the movement of teachers and pensioners, the movement for equality for women, students and youth, and the movement against the death penalty, etc. have mass dimensions. They can have a historical and decisive influence in shaping the political, economic and social structure of the country.

Therefore, this movement aims to end forever the formation of any power from above and be the beginning of a social, modern and human revolution to free the people from all forms of oppression, discrimination, exploitation, tyranny, and dictatorship.

We, the independent trade unions, civil society organisations and groups who have signed this charter, understand the following minimum demands as the first decrees put into action, and that the massive protests of the Iranian people can result in being the basis for building a new, modern and humane society in the country. In doing so, we focus on the unity and networking of the social movements and on the struggle against the current inhuman and destructive situation in Iran.

We call on all those who care about freedom, equality and emancipation to raise these minimum demands in factories, universities, schools, neighbourhoods, on the streets and on the international stage. Together we can achieve the goal of freedom:

  1. The immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, the prohibition of criminalization of political, union and civil activities and the public trial of those responsible for suppressing popular protests.
  2. Unrestricted freedom of opinion, expression and thought, press, formation of political parties, establishment of local and national trade unions and civil organisations, right of assembly, strikes, marches, social networks and audio-visual media.
  3. Immediate abolition of any type of death penalty, execution, revenge killing and prohibition of any form of mental and physical torture.
  4. Immediate declaration of complete equality of women’s rights with men in all political, economic, social, cultural and family domains, the unconditional removal and abolition of discriminatory laws and conventions against sexual and gender relations and orientations, the recognition of the LGBTQIA + rainbow society, decriminalization of all gender relations and orientations and unconditional recognition of the rights of women to control their bodies and destiny and to prevent any form of patriarchal control over them.
  5. Religion is a private matter of individuals and should not be involved in the country’s political, economic, social and cultural norms and laws.
  6. Ensuring safety at work, job security and immediate increase in the salaries of workers, teachers, employees and all working and retired workers with the presence, involvement and agreement of elected representatives of their independent and national organisations.
  7. Abolishment of any laws and norms based on national and religious discrimination and oppression, the establishment of the appropriate support infrastructures for fair and equal distribution of state resources for the development of culture and arts in all regions of the country, and providing the necessary and equal facilities for learning and teaching all languages spoken in society.
  8. Dismantling of all organs of suppression, curtailment of the reach of the state and direct and permanent engagement of people in the affairs of the country through local and national councils. Removal of any government or non-government official by voters at any time should be among the voters’ fundamental rights.
  9. Confiscation of the properties of the individuals and governmental, semi-governmental and private institutions that have taken the property and social wealth of the Iranian people hostage through direct looting or government rent. The wealth obtained from these confiscations should be urgently spent on the modernization and reconstruction of education, pension funds, the environment, and the needs of the regions and sections of the Iranian people who were deprived of their equal opportunities and access to facilities during the regimes of both the Islamic Republic and the monarchy.
  10. End environmental destruction, implement policies to restore the environmental infrastructure that has been destroyed over the past hundred years and take into public control the natural areas that have been privatized (such as pastures, beaches, forests, and foothills), depriving the people’s rights on them.
  11. Prohibition of child labour and the provision of subsistence and education for every child irrespective of the economic and social circumstances of their families. Establish public welfare through unemployment insurance and strong social security systems for all the people who are of legal age to work or are unable to work. Free education and healthcare for all people.
  12. The normalisation of foreign relations at the highest levels with all countries of the world on the basis of justice and mutual respect, banning the acquisition of nuclear weapons and striving for world peace.

In our view, the above minimum demands can be realised immediately, given the potential and actual underground wealth in the country and the existence of an informed and capable populace, as well as a generation of motivated young people eager to enjoy a happy, free and prosperous life. These demands can be met with the right action and determination.

The demands raised in this charter are the outline of the general demands of our signatories and, obviously, we will provide more detail on these demands as we continue our struggle and solidarity.

Coordinating Council of Iran’s Teachers Trade Unions

Free Union of Iranian Workers

Union of Student Organisations of Allied Students

Centre of Defenders of Human Rights

Syndicate of Workers of the Haft Tappeh company

Council for Organising Protests of Oil Contract Workers

Iran Cultural House (Khafa)

Wake Up (Bidarzani, feminist group)

The Call of Iranian Women

The Independent Voice of Ahvaz National Steel Group Workers

Labour Rights Defenders Centre

Kermanshah Electrical and Metal Workers Union

Coordinating Committee to Help Build Labour Organisations

Union of Pensioners

Council of Pensioners of Iran

The Progressive University Students Organization

Council of Free-Thinking High School Students of Iran

Painters Syndicate of Alborz Province

Committee for Creating Workers’ Organisations in Iran

Council of Retirees of Social Security Organisation (BASTA)

February 14, 2023

Our commentary on the Charter:

Very significantly, the Charter begins by declaring that Iran is seeing the “beginning of a social, modern and human revolution to free the people from all forms of oppression, discrimination, exploitation, tyranny, and dictatorship” and that “Within the existing political system, it is impossible and inconceivable to imagine an attainable vision for solving this crisis.

This accurately sums up the situation today and implicitly recognises that alongside the struggle for the Charter’s ‘minimum demands’, it is necessary to change the entire system. It is right and important to stress that under the political rule of the theocratic regime in Iran, progressive political development of the country will not be possible. However, as the Tehran Bus Drivers Syndicate noted, the question of the “capitalist system and its government” is not mentioned, meaning that issue of capitalism’s future is left open. Socialists argue that a genuinely socially, ecologically and gender-equality-based system in Iran, or elsewhere, is not possible unless the capitalist basis of the Iranian regime’s rule is also broken. This poses the question of how the developing movement can become the socialist revolution needed to open the way for a socialist transformation of Iranian society.

However, the Charter, while listing important demands to fight for, only describes in general and vague terms an alternative society.

The protests are taking place against the backdrop of large and modern social movements and the rise of an invincible generation determined to put an end to a century-long history of backwardness and marginalisation and fight for a modern, prosperous and free society in Iran.

While these general objectives are clear the signatories do not clearly state whether or not they think that this can be achieved under capitalism. For socialists, the necessity to send the theocratic regime of Iran to the rubbish heap of history is clear and an extremely important starting point, opening the possibility of breaking with capitalism. Clearly, a key now is creating a mass movement that undermines, isolates and overthrows the regime, but then the question is what replaces it?

The Charter mentions the fundamental issues but, as the following quote shows, unfortunately in a very abstract way: “We call on all those who care about freedom, equality and emancipation to raise these minimum demands in factories, universities, schools, neighbourhoods, on the streets and on the international stage. Together we can achieve the goal of freedom”.

The CWI argues that to achieve these goals requires the overthrow of capitalism and to build the movement that can achieve this there is the need to build a mass workers’ party that fights to win support for the programme of socialist revolution.

Building support for the Charter is linked to creating places and structures where it can be democratically discussed and a common campaign to spread the demands can be organised. The bodies supporting the Charter should try to involve the new structures that have been founded in the course of the revolutionary youth movement in the building of such wider democratic structures. Democratic discussion about the Charter, and the next steps for the movement, is essential. The Charter should not be seen as something which cannot be discussed and, if so desired, amended. Despite the inevitable difficulties of the Islamic Republic’s repression, such organising and discussion are vital. Leadership in this struggle is vital, but it cannot be top-down; the ranks of the movement need to be involved and have the ability to decide.

In the Charter introduction, they speak very clearly about the fact that a revolution is taking place in Iran, but in our eyes, they do not formulate clearly enough what they think is necessary organisationally to make this revolution victorious.

Yes, Iran is in a revolutionary process. Although we need to note that, at this moment, the revolutionary youth moment that started last September is going through an ebb, though that can rapidly change. Right now it is particularly important that further steps are taken to organise at the local level in workplaces, communities and educational bodies and that regional and Iran-wide organisational approaches are developed. Such structures must necessarily have democratic principles in order to represent a real alternative to the completely undemocratic political system of both the theocratic regime and the previous monarchy.

The Charter’s second demand: “Unrestricted freedom of opinion, expression and thought, press, formation of political parties, the establishment of local and national trade union and civil organisations, right of assembly, strikes, marches, social networks and audio-visual media” is very important given the severe limits imposed by the current regime. However, it is necessary to give some idea of how they think these demands can be enforced. Firstly, is the urgency that the Iranian workers and impoverished masses organise themselves, independently both from the regime and the capitalists who, while critical of the regime, simply want a more ‘normal’ capitalist system rather than one controlled by a clique of religious and military leaders.

Point four has special importance now given that the current movement was sparked off by Jina (Mahsa) Amini’s murder and has been characterised by a large participation of women, especially young women. “Immediate declaration of complete equality of women’s rights with men in all political, economic, social, cultural and family domains. Immediate declaration of complete equality of women’s rights with men in all political, economic, social, cultural and family domains, the unconditional removal and abolition of discriminatory laws and conventions against sexual and gender relations and orientations, the recognition of the LGBTQIA + rainbow society, decriminalization of all gender relations and orientations and unconditional recognition of the rights of women to control their bodies and destiny and to prevent any form of patriarchal control over them.”

These demands are very important but cannot be guaranteed as long as capitalism and control by the ruling class continue. The recent decision to end the right to abortion in the US and the bans on abortion in an increasing number of states within the US show how women’s rights can be pushed back.

Point eight of the Charter attempts to outline what system of government should replace the Islamic Republic with the “Dismantling of all organs of suppression, curtailment of the reach of state and direct and permanent engagement of people in the affairs of country through local and national councils. Removal of any government or non-government official by voters at any time should be among the voters’ fundamental rights.”

It is good that the Charter does this as it starts to give a picture of what Iran after the fall of the regime could look like. But it is also a fact, at least to our knowledge, that at present there are no such councils or council-like structures in all cities and regions of Iran that could carry out the tasks described in this point of the Charter. Therefore to work to achieve this it is necessary for the points in point 8 to be preceded by the calls for the establishment of council structures, ideally with a short explanation of how these should be structured and networked at all levels. In our opinion, such a development would help develop working-class confidence and consciousness in both the battle against the regime and for a break with the capitalist system.

However, in some parts, this Charter is an attempt to reconcile revolutionary socialist ideas and liberal pro-capitalist ideas, which can ultimately lead to pro-capitalist forces being able to secure the continuation of capitalism after this regime falls.

This is also the aim of the western imperialist powers, as they pretend to be ‘friends’ of the Iranian people. On the contrary, they are not the ‘friends’ of the Iranian or any other working class in the world. Like all imperialists, the western powers are driven by their search for profits and strategic advantages. They cannot be trusted as they do not consistently support democratic or human rights. Look at their support for the brutal Saudi regime which does not even pretend to be democratic! Saudis who post critical Twitter comments about the regime are jailed for between 15 to 45 years. Last year, at least 147 people were executed in Saudi Arabia, with 81 people killed in a single day, but the Western powers said nothing. There should be a campaign to end any illusions that the Western imperialist states, or the Pahlavi royal family, can be of any help in overthrowing the theocratic regime.

Given the huge amount of corruption and looting it is natural that the Charter deals with this in point nine: “Confiscation of the properties of the individuals and governmental, semi-governmental and private institutions that have taken the property and social wealth of the Iranian people hostage through direct looting or government rent. The wealth obtained from these confiscations should be urgently spent on the modernization and reconstruction of education, pension funds, the environment, and the needs of the regions and sections of the Iranian people who were deprived of their equal opportunities and access to facilities during the regimes of both the Islamic Republic and the monarchy.”

This demand, alongside the nationalisation of the key economic sectors, is a key measure. However, the question of who controls these riches must be clearly explained with an outline of what their control and management should look like. To break with capitalism, these entities, along with other nationalised companies, should be controlled and managed by democratic organs of the working class. This is because the working class can best decide how to rebuild the education system, where to invest in environmental protection and nature conservation, and on which other projects money should be spent. As mentioned in relation to point 8, councils need to be created to discuss and decide on this on a democratic basis.

Unfortunately, the Charter ends on a well-meaning but utopian note. It calls for the “Normalisation of foreign relations at the highest levels with all countries of the world on the basis of justice and mutual respect, banning the acquisition of nuclear weapons and striving for world peace.”

Certainly, the demand for the lifting of the sanctions on the Iranian people is urgent, but in the current period of increasing world tensions the foreign policies of all the major world powers are not based on “justice and mutual respect … and striving for world peace”.

Currently, the western powers denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine but are silent as the twentieth anniversary of the US and British-led invasion of Iraq approaches on March 19th. The only way in which the Charter’s aims can be achieved is a break with capitalism. A socialist revolution in Iran would set an example not just in the Middle East but around the world. Today, hundreds of millions are suffering the effects of the current capitalist crisis, environmental disasters and the conflicts and wars which capitalism produces. An example of a way out, of how working people can take control of their lives and begin to plan the future in their interests would get a rapid response.

However while the Charter contains many positive demands, it appears to be trying to work across the different classes, including capitalists opposed to the theocratic regime, and to do this accepts the continuation of capitalism, at least for the time being. Thus the Charter ends with no mention of capitalism or the need to overthrow it:

In our view, the above minimum demands can be implemented immediately, given the potential and actual underground mineral wealth in the country and the existence of an informed and capable populace in Iran, as well as a generation of motivated young people eager to enjoy a happy, free and prosperous life. These demands can be met with the right action and determination.”

This appears to accept that the economic system, that is, capitalism, remains untouched after the overthrow of the Iranian regime. Unfortunately, this is a road to disaster,; movements which stop halfway, which overthrow a repressive regime but let the capitalists remain in control of the economy and state power, are ultimately defeated. In different ways, this is the lesson of events in Iran in 1953, the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’, and many other struggles and revolutions around the world.

In our opinion, it is a step forward that this charter has opened a discussion on what the working class in Iran should demand in the current situation and what its role is in general within the revolutionary process in Iran.

Marxists in Iran should participate in these debates while, at the same time, working to build an organisation that can intervene in the ongoing processes on the basis of a revolutionary Marxist programme that connects the current demands with the struggle for a workers’ government and socialist revolution. The CWI offers all interested workers and youth activists support and solidarity in this work, alongside a continuing discussion and exchange of experiences.

 

Liked this article? We need your support to improve our work. Please become a Patron! and support our work
Become a patron at Patreon!