Iran erupts! Millions struggle for democratic rights

THE POLLS closed at 10pm on 12 June. Three hours later the electoral commission claimed to have hand counted 81% of 39 million votes and declared Ahmadinejad elected! At the same time as this announcement was being made, phones, text messaging, websites, and all communication channels were being shut down as the military and police forces moved onto the streets of Tehran. A coup was in motion.

By Stephen Boyd, Socialist Party

Ahmadinejad and his theocratic backer the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s rigging of the Iranian presidential election has sparked off a mass movement of people power.

Millions have taken part in demonstrations in Tehran and 19 other cities in the biggest political protests since the 1979 Revolution. The protests were initially called by the “defeated” candidate Hossein Mousavi but since then, fearing the mass movement was moving beyond his control, he has unsuccessfully attempted to quell the protests. Mousavi’s call for a day of mourning turned into a demonstration by over 100,000 in Tehran. The first major mobilisation saw over one million on the streets of Tehran.

Ruling class split

The Iranian ruling class is split between the ultra-right wing section of the regime represented by Mahmud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Khamenei, and the “pro-doing a deal with the West wing” of the regime represented by Mousavi and former president Ayatollah Rafsanjani, which is also right wing and only supports limited reforms of the theocratic regime.

Ahmadinejad has attempted to crack down on the protests by using the Basiji – a mosque based religious paramilitary force. The Basiji have attacked demonstrators and students. Dozens may have been killed around the country, and students have fought pitched battles with the riot police in the universities, reminiscent of Paris 1968. Five hundred students and opponents of Ahmadinejad have been detained by the police. Demonstrators have been comparing Ahmadinejad to Pinochet, chanting “Seyyed Ali Pinochet, Chile Iran nemishe” – “Seyyed Ali Pinochet, Iran won’t be like Chile.”

However in what may turn out be a significant development, during a major stand off between Ahmadinejad loyalists and anti-government protestors, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) stepped in to stop the Basiji from attacking the anti-government protestors. As Robert Fisk explained in the Independent, “The precedent for this sudden neutrality is known to everyone – it was when the Shah’s army refused to fire on the millions of demonstrators demanding his overthrow in 1979.” There are also reports that protestors have captured weapons from the Basiji.

The role of the IRGC in this developing revolution is crucial. Whether they come out all guns blazing to defend Ahmadinejad or split and are neutralised, even with sections coming over to the side of the people, will have fundamental implications. The Cyrus news agency has reported that 16 senior IRGC commanders have been arrested for supporting the “people power” protests.

Radicalisation

The role of the working class in this struggle is key and will fundamentally determine the outcome of this struggle. Attempts by the regime to quell the protests by offering concessions have failed. The protests are increasingly becoming more radicalised and involving more working class people and students. A certain point can be reached when the mass of people move beyond the issue of the election results, and the aspiration for democratic freedoms and a throwing off of the restrictions of the theocratic regime move centre stage.

This movement has developed not simply because of the rigging of an election. What is happening in Iran is reflective of growing opposition to Ahmadinejad over a period of time due to mass unemployment and a desire in particular amongst young people (60% population under 30), and increasingly amongst young women, for democratic rights. The brutal repression for years of workers’ struggles has also built up anger and resentment.

Terrified that this movement will threaten the continued existence of the Islamic regime it is possible that the religious leaders may have to accept Ahmadinejad’s defeat and try to use Mousavi to restore some calm – maybe even conceding limited reforms from above to stop revolution from below. However it will be difficult to control this mass movement that has lost its fear of the regime.

The Socialist Party believes that if the working class was to move to the fore in these struggles, it could unite and transform this movement into a revolutionary struggle that could challenge the rule of the Islamic theocracy and the existence of capitalism. It is the working class who will put on to the agenda the struggle for free trade unions, the right to strike, to form political parties and equality for women.

The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) has called for: “The formation of democratically elected committees of struggle from the workplaces and universities linking with the middle class and urban poor [which] can form the basis of a united struggle. The calling of a general strike and forming a defence militia along with a class appeal to the rank and file of the army are steps which are necessary to take the movement forward to overthrow the regime. Such committees could also convene elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly to decide the future of Iran”.

A struggle by the working class and rural peasants based on a revolutionary socialist programme is the only way to ensure that Iran’s vast wealth and natural resources will be utilised for the needs of the majority and real democracy can be guaranteed. 

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