A year ago, Jina (Mahsa) Amini, then a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, died in the custody of the then recently re-activated so-called “morality police”. Her murder triggered a revolutionary process, initially led by brave youth and women, that posed a fundamental challenge to the regime, something which has not gone away. This saw mass protests involving tens of thousands, hundreds killed (mainly by the state) and many thousands arrested.
Now, during a lull in the protests, the Iranian regime is currently on the offensive. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that the murderous so-called “morality police” are once again being deployed throughout Iran. It is also shown in the decline of the civil disobedience expressed in not wearing the Hijabs, and that the Iranian parliament decided recently by 179 to 49 votes, to discuss behind closed doors, a renewed toughening of the dress code for women. New punishments for breaking it will include up to 60 lashes, heavy fines, and prison terms possibly lasting 10 years. Exactly such a tightening by presidential decree created the basis for the murder of Jina (Mahsa) Amini last year.
In addition, the Iranian regime is intensifying repression against people who have been involved in the revolutionary youth movement. For example, at least 12 women’s rights activists were arrested on August 16th, and the Iranian domestic intelligence service has summoned several activists involved in the protests for questioning. At the same time the repression of worker and trade union activists continues. It is clear that the regime is preparing intensively for the September 16 anniversary of Jina (Mahsa) Amini’s assassination. This illustrates why the demands for the unconditional release of all political prisoners and for the right to freely organise trade unions and politically are so important in Iran.
All the above shows that a discussion about the perspectives of the revolutionary process in Iran is needed to draw lessons from experience, from both Iran and internationally, to help prepare for future struggles. It is very encouraging that we hear and read more and more examples of debates within the Iranian left and labour movement. An example of this is the Charter of Minimal Demands, supported by 20 Iranian organisations, that was published in mid-February and which we commented on giving our views on what the CWI saw as its strengths and weaknesses.
Recently there has been the publication of a discussion between several groups on the Iranian left which give a good picture of the debates which are currently going on.
The lull in mass struggles has naturally led to discussions on both the lessons of both last year and before along with wider questions. One participant commented:
“it seems to me that the international and regional conditions are not in favour of the movement, and this is an important factor that we should focus on. In what way is it not in favour of the movement? In the sense that Chinese imperialism once again made an important mediation in terms of opening up foreign relations, it is as if we consider this opening and the connection that was established between Iran and Saudi Arabia as a short-term rather than long-term opening. On the other hand, the confrontation that the USA, as the other wing of imperialism, has with the Islamic Republic testifies to the fact that global imperialisms, both Eastern and Western are of the opinion that until further notice, the best regime in Iran that can remain at work is the Islamic Republic.” (Javad Nazari Fatahabadi’s Committee (JNFC) )
This quote appears to be confirmed by the fact that the successful negotiations led by China have now led to Iran joining the BRICS group, and the negotiations with the USA and the EU and Germany for a new nuclear deal are still ongoing. These decisions and negotiations prove that the imperialist blocs are more or less prepared to reach deals with Iran’s undemocratic regime. This shows that the Western imperialist states are not in solidarity with the revolutionary youth movement, as they said when it began. Moreover, it shows why internationalist leftists in the Western imperialist states, while opposing the sanctions that hit the Iranian masses, must attack their own governments’ hypocrisy and strive to build independent workers’ solidarity with the Iranian masses that always criticises the collaboration of their countries’ governments with the theocratic regimes, both in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East. However, such deals do not mean that struggle is impossible and that repressive regimes are invincible. Mass struggles can win, but they need to be clear who their main enemies are – namely the local and international oppressors and capitalists.
The next contribution commented that “In this movement, all groups participated especially women and those related to the petty bourgeoisie, such as groups in the market or groups that were in the upper and also lower parts of the cities. But what we lack here, in my opinion, was sufficient support of labour strikes for the Jina movement, and also the relative lack of participation of the lower parts of the city in all the big cities. According to the results of a research conducted in the lower neighbourhoods of Tehran, it was said that ‘we were not supported during November 2019 protests (against price rises including a tripling of fuel prices), we are not going to support anyone’. Exactly the same issue that was raised in Khuzestan, and during the uprising of the Thirsty (protests in 2021 over poor water supply), there was no maximum support even among the leftists for it, and, for example, in Tehran, there was only a small gathering next to the City Theatre in support of Khuzestan.” (Street Militants Group (SMG))
An important factor in the movements of recent years in Iran is that the Bazaris (market sellers) in particular took part in the protests. This is important because this class had previously always supported the regime. However, the fact that the poorer parts of the urban population are said not to have supported the movement raises the question of how left-wing forces can attempt to better integrate them. As a starting point this requires a programme that combines the call for equal rights for women with social and democratic demands that improve the lives of all people in Iran. A programme that revolves around democratic rights, higher wages, better working conditions and a sustainable social system. But beyond such demands a Marxist programme must include a perspective that points beyond capitalism and opens up a perspective of socialist democracy that can both replace Iran’s completely undemocratic, bureaucratized political system and provide the material basis for raising living standards on the basis of a democratically planned economy.
The importance of such a programme is shown by the SMG’s contribution that also indicates some of the issues within the Iranian left. Experience shows that such problems can only be overcome if left forces begin to organize themselves on the basis of a socialist programme that deals with the programmatic points mentioned above. Fundamentally that is, when they begin to build a nationwide revolutionary socialist organisation.
Another contribution also commented on the Jina movement’s character and composition. “Our friends pointed out the issue of acceptance of violence, it is true that there is still talk about criticism of violence, but compared to the Green Movement (between 2009 and 2011), which did not take long, this atmosphere is not comparable. The level of violence by the middle classes who were present in the street during the Jina uprising and conquered the street is not comparable to that time. Another important issue is the presence of oppressed groups. One thing that we think is a very important feature of the Jina uprising is that it provided an arena for different groups of the oppressed to come to the streets with their own sufferings and problems. The Jina uprising is a wide area of the presence of these intersections of oppression, nationality, class, gender, and even in some places disability, because we saw disabled women and men who came and got involved in the street action. This pluralism, while creating a totality and while preserving the particularity of this movement creates a problem for us as political activists; While we recognize this plurality, how can we act in the continuation of the revolution, in the continuation of this uprising, plan a strategy, how to have a revolutionary intervention and be able to be effective in advancing the uprising. What we think is that we can talk more about this in these meetings and exchange opinions.” (Jiyan Group (JG))
It is right and important to emphasise that within the revolutionary youth movement different groups could position themselves on their specific forms of oppression, but for us as a Marxist organization it is of fundamental importance to work out how these forms of oppression derive from the specific development of capitalism in Iran. However, we do not agree with the approach of the Jiyan Group comrade who said “Finally, I would like to briefly add one point about the necessity of the left currents to deal with various forms of exploitation and oppression. I will briefly mention each intersection.” For Marxists class is not just a form of oppression, we see class as a central factor in capitalism based on the exploitation of human labour. But this does not mean fighting on limited issues, a political party/organisation that aims to organise the working class requires a programme that takes into account and answers all specific forms of oppression while building a movement that can break both the theocratic regime and capitalism in Iran.
This issue is linked to a further point made in the discussion, namely “the gradual fall of the middle class to the lower classes. Considering the circumstances that have occurred and the economic crisis that exists and the government that cannot continue to govern itself as usual and as before; If you observe and go to the public offices, of course, in the past, they did not answer the people, but now it has become worse and more arbitrary, in a way, there is chaos in the public organisation, offices and places where the masses of people apply for. These conditions, both the economic crisis, inflation, and the conditions that have occurred over time will cause the fall of the middle class. Right now, the middle class is falling, and this is one of the factors that make the revolutionary conditions more radical and bring more masses of people into the revolutionary camp.”(Red Revolutionary Youth Committee of Mahabad (RRYCM))
The RRYCM comrade is describing a process that always takes place in a deep crisis of the capitalist system, such as exists worldwide today, and which is especially hitting Iran. The middle class, or, more precisely, the petty bourgeoisie in Iran, especially the Bazaari, is being pulverized. Due to its specific class position between big capital and the working class, this social class cannot develop its own progressive programme. Ultimately the middle class’s choice is to support capitalism or socialism. Therefore, it is central that the working class intervenes in the revolutionary process in Iran on the basis of its own programme, a socialist one, and a party that fights for it because only in this way will it be able to win the leadership of the movement and also show the petty bourgeoisie a way out of the crisis. This is central, because otherwise the petty bourgeoisie can rally behind the right-wing and reactionary parts of the opposition and thus also behind capital.
This question of programme, of not simply calling for “revolution” but giving it a specifically socialist character is a central one and linked to the challenges of building an organisation, a party, that can concretely be part of the struggle and win support for such a programme are central issues. However this does not mean replacing the call for “revolution” with simple calls for “socialism”, but rather linking the key issues and struggles of today with the need for a socialist revolution. There are many lessons that can be learnt on this task from the 1917 Russian revolution, especially how the Bolsheviks went from being a minority in February to winning majority support within the working class and being in power by the end of October.
Many Iranian comrades understand the need for a revolutionary organisation. One participant in this discussion said “we are sure that in order to win the revolution or bring the revolution to victory in Iran, we need a nationwide organization, or party to lead the revolution. Of course, I mean those organisation that are created in the heart of the revolution and in the conditions of the balance of power, not that we use existing organisation. We really need such an organisation. Without a mass organization, we cannot win the revolution, and it is possible that our revolution will fail like in 1979, or it will suffer from existing sectarianism, or it will lead to a change of power or the intervention of imperialism in Iran again.”(Red Revolutionary Youth Committee of Mahabad (RRYCM))
It is a lesson of history that a revolutionary party or organisation is necessary for the successful implementation of a socialist revolution. While the existing regime could be overthrown by a spontaneous movement the key question of what happens next would only be settled in the interests of working people and the poor if they put real power in their own hands. This can only be achieved if there is clarity on what concretely needs to be done to carry through a socialist revolution and a revolutionary party would play a critical role in helping gain the clarity needed.
At this time it is important and right for Iranian revolutionaries to strive to overcome the existing sectarian tendencies. This does not mean ending political debate as there are issues to discuss. The aim should be to found a new nationwide party/organisation on the basis of a revolutionary socialist programme, ideologically and organisationally based on the most advanced sections of the organised working class. However, this cannot be simply announced, it needs to be built from the ground up. A step towards this could be the formation of an alliance of different socialist and workers’ groups around a clear set of demands and which would operate on a ‘united front’ basis where, within the context of united action, each group would still retain the freedom to argue for its point of view. On the basis of political clarification and activity such an alliance could help lay the foundation for a party. It would be a mistake not to draw on the experience of the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers Trade Associations when founding such an alliance or party. Especially because this structure has experience in organising nationwide.
While large numbers of women participated in the recent protests one comrade posed an important question, namely “it was very interesting, why didn’t housewives participate in the street? In my opinion, just as in the 1979 revolution, women who were much more traditional than our women in the current situation took to the streets and were present in a historical moment, even traditional and religious women who believed that when they are talking to a man, they should put their hands over their mouths. They came to the street and chanted slogans. In my opinion, in the path that the Islamic Republic is taking, this crisis will come and the street will inevitably start sooner or later. But how can we communicate with housewives today? Or with school kids or even neighbourhood soccer team kids and friendship groups? In my opinion, we should have a specific and special programme for each of these, we have more or less experience. Although when we talk about housewives, our wish is that these women become faithful revolutionaries, we must not forget that this is a path that must be followed step by step and cannot be followed suddenly. Maybe these women can be organized around their own desires, which they themselves plan.” (Gilan Revolutionary Committee (GRC))
It is important that the GRC comrades pointed out that specific programmes are needed for different parts of the population. But it is just as important that these specific programmes are united by a common conclusion – the aim to break with capitalism, because only this can resolve the specific problems of the individual groups and be the basis of struggling in common for a positive goal – socialism.
“At one point, around the time of the COVID-19 pandemic or the floods in Iran in 2019, or during the activities of Ahvaz and Haft Tappeh (respectively centres of petrochemical and sugar refining industries) in 2017 and 2018, the term “Council management” had reached a level of prominence where even visual media outlets like Iran International couldn’t deny that it echoed as a rallying shout within universities and the labour community. However, today, we are witnessing a retreat in this regard, and it is crucial that we once again enlighten our ranks and initiate the process of loading meaning into the concept of “alternative” for the masses. Only through this reassessment can we place our influence on this movement and uprising.” (Javad Nazari Fathabadi Committee (JNFC))
The comrades of the JNFC are right when they say that it is very important to present what is imagined as an alternative to the totally corrupt, bureaucratic and anti-working class theocratic dictatorship of the so-called Islamic Republic of Iran. It is important to paint a vivid picture of what council rule could look like, so that the youth, workers and impoverished masses of Iran realise that such a council system offers them a perspective for a life worth living. A vision of this could be helped by showing what councils (soviets) began to achieve in the early days of the Russian revolution before the Stalin elite were able to impose totalitarian top-down rule. For this, different forms of preparatory work are needed in different regions of Iran.
For example, the comrades of the Zahedan Revolutionary Youth Core (ZRYC) are right to say that it is important to deal with the following: “Now we have to think about what the working conditions were like in our province when they left, a comparison should be made. I am sure there are some problems, just some time ago there was a statistic about the level of illiteracy in Sistan-Baluchistan province, which is a very, very important issue that always causes us problems.” This situation could lead to initiatives that both help deal with illiteracy and spreading socialist ideas. One of Karl Marx’s daughters, amongst her other activities, taught British workers’ leaders how to read and write. In Nigeria the CWI comrades have organised, with volunteer teachers, free education of school students during the school holidays along with political education. Such approaches could also be possible in Sistan-Baluchistan.
In the discussion between the different revolutionary committees from Iran, it is often emphasized that discussions about perspectives are important. Such discussions could be raised to a new level through the establishment of national links with the aim of building a nationwide revolutionary organisation in preparation for new periods of mass struggle. Obviously the regime’s repression does not make this an easy task to achieve. However it is central that a nationwide organisation comes to a unified programme and perspective in the founding process, because only on the basis of common agreement will it be possible to intervene together in strikes and protests in the future. At the same time it is important that such a revolutionary organisation on the one hand attempts, where possible to help build broader organisations of the working class, e.g. independent trade unions or nuclei that can become unions, and while at the same time strengthening and building its own structures. For the latter, we think that a harmony of revolutionary practice and Marxist theoretical work is needed. This is the only way that the revolutionary process in Iran can be successful.
The first result of the discussions quoted above is a joint position of various collectives involved in the discussions on the first anniversary of Jina (Mahsa) Amini’s death. It is a welcome step forward that there are such clear signals for a closer cooperation of the Iranian left. This is particularly important as it has been produced against the background of massive repression inside Iran. The repression, against the background of a regime supported only by a minority in the 2021 election, strengthens the need to fight on a broader basis for the freedom of all political prisoners and, for example, the right to unionise and organise politically. It is a step in the right direction that this statement clearly states what kind of improvements should be fought for, although these need to be linked to the need to change society, something that Lenin did in his, ‘The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It’, written in the run-up to the October revolution.
What is still missing, however, is the formulation of concrete steps on which activists from the youth, workers and impoverished masses of Iran can unite and which can contribute to the discussion about the formation of a new revolutionary organisation/party able to penetrate wide parts of the country and help push forward the self-organisation of the working class. The comrades of the different collectives are to be congratulated for their courageous work in the most difficult conditions, and they are definitely correct to emphasise that the struggle can only be won by a mass movement. At the same time the mass movement needs to be won to a revolutionary socialist programme so that a break with the theocratic regime and capitalism can be carried out successfully, and a revolutionary organisation/party is needed to build the mass support for achieving these aims.
The CWI would like to offer a discussion to all revolutionary comrades about their experiences from the current revolutionary process in Iran and about our experiences from the revolutionary processes in which we are and have been involved over the years.