Iran: The authoritarians are becoming 'reformers'!

We are publishing an article by M. Razi of the Iranian Revolutionary Socialist League, which was written just before the elections in Iran which took place on February 20. As the results were a foregone conclusion, the points raised in comrade Razi's analysis are as valid now as they were before the elections took place. We would just like to add a few points to put the article in context.

The election results have confirmed the total collapse of the so-called "reformist" wing of the regime in Iran. The turn-out of voters on election day was a mere 50.5%. Four years ago, when illusions in the "reformist" were stronger, 67.4% of the electorate made the effort to get to the polling stations. In the Tehran region of the 8 million strong electorate only 2 million cast their votes. This is the lowest turnout since the mullahs came to power back in 1979. These figures show that the call for a boycott on the part of the Iranian Marxists flowed from the situation itself. There is no fundamental difference between the "reformers" and the "authoritarians". In the past one could say that the differences were on how capitalism should develop within Iran, on how much the economy should be opened up, on how far to go on the road of concessions to the imperialists, etc. Now the "authoritarian" wing has actually adopted the programme of the "reformers".

The degree to which the "reformers" have lost support can be seen by the 25 out of 290 seats they managed to win. It is true that a large number of their candidates had been banned from standing. Newspapers sympathetic to the "reformist" wing were also banned. In response to that the "reformers" tried to whip up popular support and organised a sit-in outside parliament, but they got no support whatsoever from the masses. They were left to their own devices. There was a time a few years ago when they would have got the support, but Khatami and his wing have consistently failed to give any support to the workers in struggle. And they have totally failed to address the genuine problems of the masses, such as unpaid wages, unemployment, etc.

In the meantime, workers have been shot at and arrested when they have dared to raise their genuine grievances. Where were the "reformers" when all this was happening? In reality the "reformers" fear the masses as much as the "authoritarians". No one should have any illusions about this. The "reforms" that are much praised in the west by the bourgeois media, are nothing to do with such things as health care, jobs, education, etc. They are in fact "counter-reforms". They involve widespread privatisation and cuts in subsidies, all things that would severely worsen the living conditions of ordinary working Iranians.

Now that the "authoritarian" wing has a firm hold on Parliament, they may feel stronger and feel more confident in stamping down on any dissent among the masses. They will now attempt to make a deal with imperialism, in particular West European imperialism. Their regime is in difficulty and they need financial backing, investment, etc. However, the prices for this is precisely the so-called reforms, especially the plans to privatise whole sections of the Iranian economy.

This will simply worsen the conditions for the masses. What this means is that the process in Iran is moving a step closer to the mobilisation of the masses. For a period the workers and youth of Iran waited to see what the "reformers" would do. Now these stand exposed before the masses. But that marks a weakness in the regime. What wing has the authority to fool the masses now? A series of illusions have burnt out of the consciousness of the Iranian workers and youth. They will learn from this process that they can only count on their own forces. They must build their own trade unions and in the final analysis their own mass party, a party of the Iranian working class. That is the task at hand now.

March 1, 2004


On the eve of the seventh Islamic parliamentary election in Iran, developments within the ruling elite have taken place which have drawn the attention of the European capitalist media. It appears that all the western observers find these developments as favourable and are satisfied with them. The government's capitulation in signing the additional protocol to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was undertaken by an 'unknown' and 'unofficial' person named Seyyed Hassan Rohani, the Secretary of the National Security High Council (and possibly the next president!). His trips to France and meeting with Jacques Chirac, and a series of negotiations with western governments and promises about opening Iran's doors to international capitalists; giving a nod to the Israeli government, have finally opened the way for a permanent 'peace' of the European governments and America with the Islamic Republic. Hassan Rohani has been seen as a 'trouble-shooter' and the 'torch-bearer of the realistic conservatives' (Financial Times, 21 January 2004), and as a 'trustworthy' person and the official representative of Khameneii and the 'undeclared foreign minister' (The Economist, 17-23 January 2004). After that Prince Charles's visit to Iran, which was approved by the British government, put the stamp of approval on the policies of the Iranian regime's right-wingers.

At the same time as these preparations, the Council of Guardians boldly rejected the suitability of the most important 'reformist' elements from participating in these elections. 'Protests' and the sit-in by over 80 members of parliament has been like trying to resuscitate someone who drowned a long time ago! The hatred and disgust of the people, who four years ago voted for these very 'representatives', was such that not even one protest took place in their support. The appeals made by the 'reformers' for support were left unanswered even by their own supporters. This was in sharp contract to some 'researchers' who still wait in the hope that the 'reformers' might bring about some 'new' development for organising a 'democratic revolution'! The 'reformers' have been tossed aside. Even the imperialist governments have given up hope on the 'reformers'.

In fact the 'authoritarians' have announced to the imperialist governments that not only do the 'reformers' have no political power but that they have no mass support either. And if the western governments need any 'reforms' of a capitalist type, then the 'authoritarians' themselves can become 'reformers'.

The turn of the 'authoritarians' in fact took place after the occupation of Iraq by the American government. This turn is headed by former president Rafsanjani. In its first issue after the occupation of Iraq, Rahbord, a periodical which is published by the Strategic Studies Centre, a body which is tied to the Iranian regime's Expediency Council, published a 24 page interview with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the chairman of this Council. In the interview Rafsanjani deals with the role of the Expediency Council in resolving difficulties between Iran and America. He said that "as Muslims we have no problem with resolving any of the foreign issues facing us… We have a tenet in Islam which is the precedence of the expediency of power over the expediency of weakness… In principle, the Assembly of Experts has been created on the basis of this need." He referred to Khomeini's view which specified that one can even stop prayers and fasting if it is for the expediency of the system, and added that: "To endanger our country and imagine that we are acting in an Islamic way is not Islamic." In this interview he claimed that the foreign policy apparatus of Iran, because of the inexperience of its officials, had in many cases missed opportunities, but now it has reached a state under which it appreciates the world's political issues and can assess and analyse them!

Following on from these claims, the new course of the right-wing clique took place, and it is aimed at attracting the trust of western governments. It is obvious that for the imperialist governments to invest in Iran, to loot the oil resources, and to use the labour power of Iran, it makes no difference which of the ruling cliques is in power - so long as their interests are guaranteed.

Under these conditions the workers' movement of Iran is entering a new stage in its political life. Creating a 'modern' capitalist system that is tied to the policies of the world banks and the world capitalist system is on Iranian capitalism's agenda. This process will mean the continuation of the flow of foreign capital into Iran. In the next period international capitalism, by importing spare parts, training technicians and technocrats, professional managers, will enter Iran's 'virgin' economic scene.

Getting the wheels of industry into motion goes together with employing workers at a higher and more regular basis. Together with employment, gradually the uncertainty and insecurity that workers have about jobs (the fear of losing their job) will diminish and this process will in turn boost workers' self-confidence. But this process will not end here. The newly established and modern capitalism, which for many years has stayed backward due to reasons like the Iran-Iraq war, repression, wrong economic policies and incompetence of the regime's leaders, will be forced to increase the intensity of labour to make up time. New and advanced machinery, educated managers who are knowledgeable about management issues, rational economic planning, will increase the intensity of labour among workers and, as a result, the workers will be condemned to endure super-exploitation. Super-exploitation together with self-confidence among workers will mark a new stage in workers' struggles.

For the first time in over two decades of capitalist rule, the contradictions between 'labour' and 'capital' will appear as more noticeable and precise than before. Also, the modus operandi, both of the capitalists and workers will change. If in the past the imposition of a mediaeval Labour Code, together with the naked repression of workers, was part of the regime's policy; in the next period a new Labour Code that, on the face of it is written in accord with international laws and regulations, will be in force.

Obviously the workers of Iran have entered a new stage in the organisation of their struggles against capitalism. The central demand of workers is setting up independent workers' organisations. But independent workers' organisations are not formed spontaneously or by the International Labour Organisation. If that does happen, then they will stand opposed to the central demands of the workers (the right to strike, workers' control, and a sliding scale of wages rising in line with inflation and so on). Independent workers' organisations can only be set up by the workers themselves. To prepare for such organisations having self-confidence and finding the means for self-organisation are the main issue. This cannot be achieved unless there is active participation by workers in the political scene.

During the election period probably a large section of the mass of toilers and the youth will boycott these undemocratic elections. But just 'boycotting' the elections will not help advance the struggles of the workers and the youth. The boycott of the elections must takes place in an active way and around demands which alter the balance of forces in favour of the toilers and creates self-confidence among workers. Drafting a workers' action programme based on the democratic, trade union and transitional demands of the workers is on the order of the day. The workers and the youth must at the same time introduce their own representatives to society, and, around these individuals, present the workers' action programme to society. The active boycott of the elections means taking part in anti-capitalist struggles with the alternatives of the workers' action programme.