Interview with Azar Majedi.
Protests, strikes, demonstrations and activism are every day events. Why?
Wars, killings, torture, executions, state and Islamic terrorism are also every day events. Why?
Unemployment, poverty, wage slavery, slavery, peoples’ displacement, immigrants drowning while crossing sees, homelessness, gender inequality, domestic violence, child cruelty and millions of other miseries are also every day events. Or better said realities. Why?
In this issue we are highlighting the situation in Iraq, Chile and Lebanon which touches on the above questions. One thing people of different countries have in common i.e. suppression of their rights and lives which is countered by resistance and protests.
1: The recent protests in Iraq have been suppressed by the Iraqi government. Hundreds dead and thousands injured. What instigated these protests?
AM: Unemployment, poverty, extreme inequality, large-scale corruption and destitute; young people have no hope; they see no future. This is the generation that have grown up in war, ruin, and in a society that has practically been dismantled by the brutal attack of the US and the UK in 2003. During the past 16 years Iraqi society has been pushed back a century. The most corrupt sections of the society have risen to power by the state and Islamic terrorism.
Sectarianism has taken over the society and created a constant war and intensified terrorism and corruption. Indeed sectarianism is been targeted by protestors. Slogans demanding an end to a sectarian political structure; and banners stating that they regard themselves as neither Shia, Sunni, Christian, Arab nor Kurd have been held by the protesters. Rightfully, the youth is deeply angry. Their lives and youth have been ruined by a brutal war and there seems no end to it.
Protestors are demanding the overthrow of the political system and the government; They are also demanding the end to the mingling of the Islamic Regime of Iran in their lives and country. Their anger has equally targeted the Iraqi government and the IR. After the 2003 war, IR created a stronghold in Iraq, both in Kurdistan and in the larger society. As a matter of fact Hashd’ ol Shabi IR’s mercenary militia has been very active in suppressing the protests and shooting the protestors.
2: It is clear that the original demands of the people for jobs, housing and protesting against corruption has led to a wider wave of protest against the entirety of the Iraqi government. Are we witnessing an uprising?
Observing the political situation and protest movement from afar and language barrier are hindrance to a more precise political analysis; however, referring to communist activists’ observations one can definitely conclude that we are facing an uprising that has taken over most of the country. I’d like to refer to Yanar Muhammad’s interview with Democracy Now for more detailed information and a clearer narration of the events. Yanar is the spokesperson of the Organisation for Women’s Freedom and a leading member of the Communist Alternative.
3: How do you see the balance of power within the Iraqi government and that of the people? How can the people withstand the external influence of the Western governments and that of the Islamic Republic of Iran?
AM: The government has no real popular base, and people are protesting en masse. However, the government is armed with the most deadly weapons and has the support of both poles of terrorism, state and Islamic. In other words, the government is militarily strong but with no political, economic or ideological stronghold. People, on the other hand, enjoy a great deal of solidarity and unity; Now the oil and gas workers of Basra have joined the movement by going on strike; they seem to have managed to create grassroots organisations, at least in Bagdad and perhaps Basra, Najaf and Karbala. These are two important columns of a popular uprising; however, the lack of a revolutionary communist party can prove detrimental. Having said that, we know from theory and our own experience in Iran in 1979, that revolutionary communists grow rapidly in numbers and theoretical and organisational strength during a revolutionary period. This is what we should hope for and try to aid in this dire and exciting time.
1: Streets of Santiago are full of protestors. More than a million people marched in Santiago on 25 October against inequality. Some of their slogans are “Chile has woken up” and “Better times!” What are they woken up to?
AM: People of Chile like most countries in the world have suffered decades of oppression, poverty, inequality, injustice, imprisonment and torture in the hands of the ruling class and the bourgeoisie. But Chile has a recent history of strong leftist sentiments and activism, the very reason for a CIA organised coup d’état 46 years ago. A bloody period that is alive in the memories of not only the Chilean people but the world. The current state is the same in every aspect except the name as the Pinochet’s military government. It is no coincidence that the minister of internal affairs was a close aid of Pinochet.
Inequality and economic disparity have vastly grown in Chile like the rest of the world. People are basically poor; while a small minority, including the president who is a billionaire, are enjoying grotesque privileges and have witnessed their wealth amass incredibly. In this sense the economic situation in Chile is very similar to the rest of the world. It is the political climate that has led to the recent protest movement. But again we are witnessing mass protest movements in many countries, Iraq, Lebanon, Haiti, Bolivia, Colombia; Brazil is going through a great upheaval; France has been dominated by continuous protests for the past year. In the face of it, what triggered the protest movement was a few cents increase in the price of metro tickets.
This is so intriguing about mass protests or uprisings, one day you wake up and you realise that large number of people have taken to the streets over what seems to be not so significant. This is the dynamism of uprisings, when underneath the social events and relations a political climate is simmering and one day is ready to erupt. It seems that the moment has come in Chile.
2: The protestors have the support of the wider community. Even medical students have left their lecture theatres to help the injured in the streets. Do you think the current protests will develop into a mass struggle supported by the working class?
AM: I believe that they do have the support and sympathy of the working class as the economic situation is really tough and workers’ laws are suppressive; however, if you mean workers’ mass strikes? If the movement continues a little longer, I believe that will happen. It is bound to happen. Interestingly enough, Last week 2 young female MPs who are described as communists have tabled a resolution to reduce the working week hours from 45 to 40. After taking back the metro fare rise and dismissing the whole cabinet by the president, this is the most important piece of reform that has resulted from weeks of protest. This says something about the class and social structure of the protest movement.
AM: These are the same tactics that any government pressurised by popular protest adopts. We’ve seen it so many times. But as soon as streets are quiet again and people have lost their momentum they reintroduce the same measures. It must be said that it is too little and too late. I don’t think people will stop at these dismal measures. The heavy-handed clamp down by the security forces, especially in the first two weeks, is too characteristic and important to let go. I believe people demand his downfall; we have to wait and see.
1: Anti-government protests have also been ripe in Lebanon during October. It led to the resignation of the prime minister, Saad Hariri. Do you see this as a victory for the people in Lebanon?
AM: It is definitely encouraging, but victory? I don’t think so. He is just a piece in the reactionary and corrupt ruling class. The government has also backed down on the measure that triggered the movement, levying fees on WhatsApp usage; It also promised to halve the salaries of government officials and members of the parliament and give some financial aid to the poor. None of these have quelled the anger, determination and the momentum of the protests; instead they only emboldened the people and strengthened their movement. It seems that the protesters know clearly what they want and are not prepared to give up. From day one they have demanded the end to the sectarian political structure, which has torn the society apart and created a breathing ground for sectarian violence, precarious political climate, economic misery and hardship and corruption.
2: There are reports that more than 200 people have been killed in the recent protests. How do you see the strength of the protest movement to combat such savagery?
AM: This is the case with all the other societies under political upheavals; in this respect Lebanon is not any different; actually Lebanon in comparison with Iraq and Chile has suffered less brutality and violence; So far, we have been witnessing a calmer situation in Lebanon; We have also seen many pictures of one to one fights between the protestors and the security forces.
3: Lebanon has always been a centre for different political movements and factions to play a part in the country’s political situation and suppression of people. How do you see the role of the Hezbollah forces in the recent protests?
AM: As mentioned above, Lebanon has been known for its sectarian political structure for decades. For years ethnic nationalist organisations in the region, e.g. the nationalist Kurdish groups in Iran have used Lebanon as a great example of sectarian division of the country; they have heralded Lebanon as the example of democracy with respect for ethnic tensions. We, Worker-communists have always condemned this structure as reactionary and contrary to egalitarian principles and people’s equal rights or a just solution for national oppression.
Hezbollah is the child of the IR; It is as brutal and reactionary as the IR. For some time it enjoyed a degree of popularity among sections of the population; the main reason being its hostile attitude to the state of Israel. It enjoys vast sum of financial help from the IR and is armed to teeth by it. However, people’s hostility towards Hezbollah and its leader Nassrollah during the protests tells a different story now. Many protestors have set fire to the headquarter of Ammal, a similar religious terrorist organisation; They demanded the abolition of these organisations; Young women have belly danced in front of Hezbollah’s headquarter, a vivid protest at this backward misogynist Islamic army. This is to say: ”go to hell.”
Nassrollah first disagreed with Hariri’s resignation, and then approved of it. He made a quick trip to Iran to get advice from his leaders and after coming back tried to strike a note with the protestors; all in vain; all signs of desperation. People face a great challenge vis a vis such brutes and in regional context. As the fear of civil war has always been invoked in time of political trouble by the ruling class since the seventies. No one says it’s easy. It is a very challenging and difficult time.
Can you answer the “whys” of the introduction to this interview? What is the solution?
AM: A worker’s revolution is the real answer to all the problems and demands which led people of many countries to rise and try to take matters in their own hands. I am aware that this answer is no longer fashionable and it might sound like an old cliché to the ears of many. Nevertheless, if we even disregard hard theoretical analyses and facts, we cannot disregard our recent history and experiences. Anything short of a worker revolution which overthrows not only the existing ruling class, but also capitalism; it abolishes the wage-labour and private property and creates a council based government will result in too few reforms which are short-lived. We don’t need to look too long back, a quick look at the world since the sixties; if nothing else it has one important and basic lesson: reforms made by large socio-political movements are easily taken back. Being content with the left of the bourgeoisie will lead to total disillusionment and bitterness. Moreover, it is a known fact now that the era of social-democracy is long gone.
⏭ Asar Majedi is a Member of Hekmatist Party leadership & Chairperson of Organisation for Women’s Liberation