A new stage: A balance sheet of the present Iranian revolution

Recent events in Iran have highlighted the fact that the movement that erupted back in June was not a one off sporadic event. It marked the beginning of a revolutionary process that will not stop until this hated regime is brought down. There are ups and downs, but the direction is clear. What the mass movement now requires is the decisive intervention of the organised working class. That is what the Marxists insist on in this situation.

After six months of struggle the Iranian revolution is entering a new phase. After the intense battles of the last few weeks ending with many killed and an unknown number of activists imprisoned, it has become evident to large layers of the masses, if not the majority, that a point of no return has been reached. From here there is no way back. The complete destruction of the Islamic state and the convening of a revolutionary constituent assembly is the only way to start addressing even the most modest needs of the Iranian people.

So far, only the absence of a revolutionary leadership has prevented the overthrow of the regime. The masses have shown enormous strength, level of consciousness and willingness to sacrifice whatever it takes to liberate themselves. On the other side we have seen divisions in the regime and even elements of vacillation in the repressive forces faced with the mass movement of the people. The movement must organize through neighbourhood and factory committees and arm itself with a clear programme, discussed and voted by the committees. This act would prepare the downfall of the hated regime and at the same time would be the first step towards the building of socialism in Iran.

The Revolutionary Process is Maturing

In his preface to the History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky explains how, “The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events. In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business - kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime.” This is precisely what we have witnessed in Iran over the last few months.

Since its eruption last June the mass movement has developed through a series of stages. The carnival-like moods of the fist days, a common feature of all revolutions, did not last for long. The regime was paralyzed by the massive character of the movement that was cutting through everything. But without a programme and leadership it was natural that the movement couldn't draw millions into the streets every day indefinitely. So as soon as the demonstrations became smaller the regime turned to what it knows best, brutal and violent suppression.

Photo by Milad Avazbeigi.Photo by Milad Avazbeigi. In the short term, this tactic worked, and for a few days the regime created some sort of calm in the streets. But this was only the calm before the storm. On July 9 the people came out again. Although the demonstrations on this day were not as big as the ones in the previous days, they were on a different level, showing not only that the masses were not cowed by repression nor did they feel defeated, but that they were beginning to lose fear completely. Although the movement did not have any organized expression it continued to develop its methods and slogans. Starting from slogans such as "Where is my vote?" in midsummer, by the autumn the masses of people were chanting "Death to the dictator" and "Death to Khamenei". Rejection of electoral fraud had become rejection of the regime and its main representatives.

The regime was weakening and could not afford to let the situation in which its power was being challenged to go on for long. At the same time the movement had not achieved any of its goals. None of the sides could afford to take a step back. As we have explained from the beginning the built up tensions in Iranian society would inevitably lead this movement to a living struggle for power, that is, a revolution.

This contradiction, being inherent in all earlier days of struggle, showed itself clearly for the first time on December 7. This so called "Students Day" was turned into a fierce and violent battle between the demonstrators and the armed forces. The battles of that day had a far more bitter character than any other day since the June elections. On previous occasions the demonstrators had dispersed faced with armed confrontation, only to gather again at a later time. But on that day the struggles went from being defensive to being increasingly offensive. Direct clashes between demonstrators and armed forces were seen in many places and no one was retreating.

Although the number of demonstrators was smaller due to the nature of the day ("Students Day") the actions taken by the people were on a far more advanced level than earlier. The masses were beginning to feel their strength and also the limitations of their enemies. The prospect of this mood spreading to the wider layers of the population must have caused many sleepless nights for the commanders of the armed forces. From that day all eyes were locked on the traditional Shia Mourning days of Tasua (December 26) and Ashura (December 27) which were the next opportunities for the movement to take to the streets.

Montazeri Dies

On 19 December 2009, a few days before Tasua and Ashura an incident occurred that further prepared the ground for explosions. Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, one of the most known critics of the regime for the last 25 years died of natural causes.

Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali MontazeriGrand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri His criticism of different aspects of the regime had made him an icon and a focal point for opposition in Iran. Although being a premier architect of the Islamic Republic and the "rule by supreme jurist" he later became a vocal critic of the same instances. He also openly criticized the mass executions of leftist activists that took place at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. This happened at a time when all the other “reformists” (Rafsanjani, Khatami, Mousavi etc.) were firmly behind the regime.

This kind of opposition earned Montazeri quite a few years of house arrest, but it also earned him the admiration of many Iranians who had not seen such defiance anywhere else within the corrupt ruling circles of the country. So it is not surprising that the death of Montazeri sparked demonstrations all over Iran. Although the regime tried to sabotage many means of transport to his funeral, hundreds of thousands showed up (some claim up to 2 million!). After Montazeri’s funeral the stage was definitely set for massive demonstrations during the days of Tasua and Ashura.

Tasua and Ashura

The traditional Shia days of mourning - Tasua and Ashura - are significant because they traditionally bring out the largest layers of society into the streets. The ceremonial mourning demonstrations can attract millions of people. Therefore, in times of revolution, they have traditionally also been turned into political manifestations by the masses. This also happened during the 1978-79 revolution.

Demonstrators attacking Basij at a demonstration during AshuraDemonstrators attacking Basij at a demonstration during Ashura Also this time the lack of an organized expression for the mass movement forced it to use these days as focal points for struggle. Although the regime had taken all possible precautions, it could not stop the masses from turning the day into a day of struggle against the regime.

From many days earlier the regime had mobilized all its forces to crack down on all dissent. In this tense atmosphere fighting easily broke out. But it was not like any previous occasion. The mood that was seen for the first time on "Students Day" was unfolding again. The masses marched without any fear, determined to sacrifice what was necessary. Only this time it was on a massive scale spreading to all layers of the people who were mobilized en masse. Again instead of dispersing in front of armed repression the crowds did not step back, they fought back.

As we wrote then:

"... the real showdown came on Sunday, December 27. On this day, and as we are writing this article, millions of people filled streets in cities all over Iran and came into an open fight with forces of the regime. Not only that. Many streets, especially in central areas of Tehran, were actually occupied by people and are currently under their control. People have started taking over police and Basij stations, in different cities of Iran, setting fire to some and attempting to acquire guns from others.

“Another very important development is some reports that show a number of forces have refused to shoot people, dismissing orders from their commanders.(...)

“Let’s have a quick look at the facts: people are not only fighting back against regime forces but conquering police stations and putting streets under their own control; refusal of some forces to shoot at people; slogans like 'This is the month of Blood, Khamenei will be overthrown' and 'Khamenei should know, he will be overthrown soon'. It is evident that power is slipping onto the streets!" (Iran: Power slipping to streets)

The Regime is Bleeding

The Ashura demonstrations marked a turning point. The mass movement has grown confident; it has lost fear completely and is now becoming aware of the fact that the only option is the complete overthrow and destruction of the regime.

The regime mobilized all its forces to crack down on Ashura demonstrations, but came short. This fact alone will act as a great encouragement for the future. But not only was the regime unable to crush the movement, under this massive pressure from beneath cracks started to appear within the state apparatus. There were reports of police refusing to fire on the people. This is extremely significant, and also a feature in every revolution. The pressure of the masses is eating its way into the consciousness of the armed bodies of men that make up the state. For how long could they continue to shoot on their own friends and family, their own people? Under the pressure of the mass movement, even the apparently most powerful apparatus of repression can crumble, as was the case during the revolution in 1978/79.

Unfortunately, in the absence of a clear leadership, the uprising did not go all the way to its logical conclusion - the toppling of the theocratic regime. Therefore the regime began a wave of desperate reaction in the days that followed. Thousands of activists were arrested and a complete media blackout was created and the regime began a massive propaganda campaign through all possible levers.

At the same time a huge counter-demonstration was also staged with hundreds of thousands who were bribed with a meal or forced to go on the streets by their schools or public workplaces, etc. The regime did everything it could to regain the legitimacy that it seemed to have lost. We deal with the reasons and complications tied to the lack of victory later in this article, but what we must note here is that the actions of the regime are not based on gaining of strength; rather it is based on a continuous drain of resources.

The Iranian regime is now acting like a cornered and mortally wounded animal. As most people know an animal is perhaps most dangerous when it is cornered and mortally wounded, but this also means that it can only maintain an offensive for limited amounts of time. The Iranian regime is haemorrhaging in a self-reinforcing manner. Blood is coming out of its every vein and as it tries to close one wound others open.

The next national days of celebration are February 11 (Day of the 1979 revolution) and Chahar shanbe soori (A day where people traditionally light bonfires in the streets and use fireworks, such as bombs and hand grenades). Can the regime take any more blows on these days?

There is also the economic factor. Although credible statistics are impossible to find it is no secret that the world economic crisis of capitalism has hit extra hard on the already sick and bureaucratically mismanaged Iranian economy. The economists have predicted a fall from 6 percent growth to 0.5 percent just from 2008 to 2009. On top of that, the political instability has led to a steep fall in investments. This process could be pushed even further if the recently proposed UN trade sanctions are ratified with the help of Russia. All this could lead to the state collapsing much sooner than most would imagine.

World Imperialism Fleeing a Sinking Ship

The severe crisis of the Islamic Republic and the fact that repression no longer allows the regime to keep control of the situation will mean a further drain of support both from within, but also from international allies. Although officially power has stayed in the hands of a small clique, the limitations of the regime have been clearly displayed to the whole world.

Already Russia, a steady ally of the Iranian regime up until last week, has voiced "concern" over the unrest in Iran and there is even a possibility that they could vote for sanctions against Iran in the UN. This "concern" of the Russians resembles the "concern" presidential candidate Jimmy Carter voiced in 1977 over the human rights situation in Iran. These "concerned" voices only express the beginnings of a retreat at the top. The ruling alliances are creaking and a large part are pushing for a loosening of the grip while at the same time placing their money on safer bets - in case a loosening of the grip doesn't help.

There have also been other significant developments. Italy, probably Iran’s biggest European trading partner, has launched a massive campaign against the Iranian regime. Also American president, Obama, has made a 180-degree turn in his stance towards Iran. From "reaching out" to the reactionary mullahs he is now "strongly condemning" the unjust actions of the regime and proposing hard sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and by doing so is indirectly helping the reformist faction.

All these actions are signs that the imperialist powers of the world are losing faith in the Iranian regime. They are abandoning the hard-line faction of the regime and lending support to the reformists hoping they can lead the movement down safer channels. But for now these manoeuvres will have a spiralling effect causing further division and disintegration on the regime’s side and more space for organization and consolidation on the side of the masses.

The Future Brings More Instability

Whatever the outcome, Iranian society will never turn back to how it was before last summer. The pressure from below is shattering every grain of unity within the ruling elite and immense centrifugal forces are developing within the dirty corridors of the state apparatus and the international "community". Further enforcing these changes is the continuous disintegration of the economy.

The probable scenarios for the immediate future are very small in number. There is a real chance that the regime may collapse under the pressure of the masses, but it is more probable that they will try one last path to avoid overthrow. That is, the path of concessions from the top. This is also the reason for Khamenei’s silence in the last period. He is contemplating acting as the nation’s caring father, thereby also giving him some of his religious legitimacy back. If he chooses, or is pressured, to make such a choice it will probably be manifested in the form of some kind of unity government.

Such a government would be very similar to the government of Jafar Sharif-Emami who was prime minister from August 27, to November 6, 1978. Its purpose would be to open up a bit to let some steam off, and to unite the forces of the ruling classes. But it will fail in both.

Let us not forget that it was in this open atmosphere that the preparations and the initiation of the general strike took shape during the Shah era, a general strike that was decisive in toppling the regime.

As for the creation of unity in the ruling circles, it is a utopian dream as long as the masses are mobilised. Just like in the era of the Shah, it is inconceivable that the armed forces, who are used to handling matters with force and without asking anyone, would follow the soft policies of such a government. A unity government would not satisfy any side and therefore it would only act as a passing phenomenon that would prepare for even bigger explosions than we have seen so far.

Whatever the outcome, the period of instability has only just begun. If the country were to adopt some kind of bourgeois democracy with a puppet parliament, (some) freedom of speech etc., it would only be temporary. Any concessions would only be granted to stave off the revolutionary demands of the masses, but as capitalism on a world basis has gone into a long period of deep and chronic crisis, it can no longer afford such concessions anywhere, least of all in Iran. It is only the complete destruction of capitalism and its replacement by a democratic socialist society that can satisfy the needs and aspirations of the Iranian masses.

The Working Class is the Key - Prepare for a Revolutionary General Strike

As we have stated many times, it is an acute necessity that the Iranian working class puts its stamp on the revolution. Running the means of production, it is the only social force that can squeeze where it hurts the most. No one can doubt this fact.

Without the workers' kind permission nothing can work in Iran. But the working class also have other features. Its instinctive outreach for unity and decisiveness in action are characteristics that are essential to the victory of the revolution. Of course, all other oppressed social layers and classes, from the students to the small shopkeepers, play important roles, but the workers are the key to uniting all these factors and leading them to fulfilling their true potential.

Not only are the workers crucial in the process of overthrow, they are also the only social force that can lead to the building of a new society. It was the workers through the general strike that dealt the Pahlavi dynasty its death blow. The 44-day general strike drained the regime of all its resources. Also after the overthrow it was on the initiative of the workers that the Shoras started spreading throughout the country. Starting off as strike committees or committees of action, they quickly spread and developed to fill the vacuum of power that was created after the collapse of the old state apparatus. In this form they made up the embryo of what could have been the organized power of the masses over society, that is - a democratic workers’ state.

If the workers had not struck it would not have been guaranteed that the Shah would fall and a bloody civil war would have been very probable. We should learn from this experience and use it to strengthen the present revolution. But it is difficult for the workers to strike in a situation where layoffs and attacks on all working conditions are on the agenda everywhere. If workers are to strike, thereby putting both their own lives and probably also their families’ lives at stake, they must feel confidence in the leaders, the programme and confident of the backing they would receive. If the movement manages to link its demands with the workers, one spark could ignite the whole country. If a general strike were to occur at this moment, it would mean the final hour of the regime.

Tasks of the Revolution - Prepare for overthrow

The size and qualitative level of the last struggles bring to the fore all the strengths of the mass movement, but it also magnifies its weaknesses. After the Ashura demonstrations there were some small and weak layers who had previously been sympathetic to the movement that started wavering. They started asking themselves, “why are people on the streets, burning things and fighting with the police? What do they want? Who represents their views?”

Although for now, shifts like these will only have a very superficial and minimal character, we should not take them lightly. History is full of these shifts. The counter-revolution feeds on the wavering of these elements and layers. This is a basic law of all class struggle - the loss of a base for one side means a strengthening of the other.

What is needed to fulfil the tasks of the revolution as quickly and decisively as possible is a leadership, a programme, an organized expression of the masses and decisive action to overthrow the regime as swiftly as possible and convene a revolutionary constituent assembly.

For this purpose and especially in the run up to the days of action, we must strive to build committees of action in all neighbourhoods and factories and try to connect them on city and national level.

These committees must be elected from the bottom up and be tied directly to the broadest layers possible. They must first of all create defence militias to ensure the security of the masses and in order to ease the passing of the troops over to the side of the revolution. The clashes on December 27 and 28 have opened a wide debate about the non-violent character of the movement. The question, however, is wrongly posed. The masses need to defend themselves from the brutal attacks of the state forces, and this needs to be done in an organised way. If the rank and file police are faced with a resolute and well organised movement they are more likely to pass over to the side of the people, thus reducing the amount of violence.

Such committees should also strive to organize discussions to formulate demands and a collective programme. It should also be the duty for the neighbourhood committees to establish links with the factories helping the workers organize their own committees and to prepare and organize a general strike. If money is needed to sustain the workers’ families, or if there is need for extra security measures, the committees should help organise collections and set up defence teams.

Their creation could be the final step towards the complete destruction of the Islamic republic, but they will also play a role after that. That is, to act as the main units in a workers’ republic, for the first time letting the organized will of the masses plan and decide how society is run in Iran.

The creation of committees of action on a general level would immeasurably strengthen the revolution. Through the committees the most acute problems can be addressed. Leaders can be elected, a programme can be discussed and voted on, the masses can become organized and a general strike can be prepared and initiated. They would be nothing but the revival of the Shoras that have been an Iranian traditional instrument for class struggle throughout the last century. Already this process is taking place an embryonic form, but we must organize all the forces to speed up and spread this process.

Only trust your own powers

Although class differentiation has not yet emerged clearly in the present Iranian revolution, the events taking place in Iran today are, in the end, nothing but a fierce struggle between the classes. They are the living expression of a capitalist system whose survival is no longer compatible with the most basic needs of the workers, the poor and not even the middle classes. As long as the system prevails, endless horror will prevail. When the present regime is brought down this will become clear to everyone.

The only way out of this impasse is to destroy the system and replace it with a socialist society run and ruled over by the majority of the people. The task of achieving this goal lies in the hands of the working masses of Iran. They cannot trust anything but their own powers.

Long live the Iranian revolution!