1/ The political situation in Iran is eventful. How do you define this situation from the point of view of the regime and that of the working class?
AM: Islamic Regime (IR) from the outset was opposed by the left and the communists, by section of the working class and by many women who saw their minimal rights to be eroded. It only took two and half years from its coming to power that the opposition grew and the regime gathered its power to attack the society and start a campaign of mass murder either in prisons or by military attack on Kurdistan and fighting with the armed partisans, a large section of them being communist; IR organised a coup d’état like assault in June 1981, rounded up people on the street and raided their homes; around hundred thousand people, including children died either by execution or under torture in the 80s.
Thereafter there have been protest movements taking place every decade, 1999, 2009 and the latest beginning in December 2017. The difference this time is that after more than two years, the protest movement not only hasn’t been defeated and set back, but it has escalated and radicalised. Understandably, there has been ups and downs, some quieter and some very vibrant periods. However, the important characteristic of this round is that it is ongoing. Even the regime, which is a savvy propagandist, quite skilled in face saving and spreading lies, has not been able to declare the end of the uprising.
Another important aspect of this movement is the rise of the working class and its leaders. Hundreds of workers’ strikes, sit-ins, marches, and protest by blocking roads have taken place in the past two years. The height of workers movement was the strike in Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane factory and steel plant both in the south of the country which manifested a great deal of courage, militancy and radicalism; calling for creation of councils to run not only work- places but also the society by Esmaeil Bakhshi and clearly targeting capitalism and the capitalist state.
Councils are not a new phenomenon in Workers’ movement in Iran. In the first years after the revolution, workers in some plants and factories created their councils based on general assemblies, but these councils were brutally crushed and their leaders and activists imprisoned and some executed. However, calling for creation of councils by a workers’ leader, in this manner; especially the demand for running the factories and the society at large, is a new phenomenon. This showed a deep political and class polarisation of the society.
The regime arrested Bakshi and some other workers’ activists, subjected them to brutal tortures; under pressure from the people it freed him and some others, only to re-arrest them. The brutal clamp down of the security forces on the workers and arresting their leaders has definitely had a negative impact on workers’ struggle; but has not quashed it. Every day there are strikes and protests.
Poverty is the most important issue in the society; a great majority of the populace live under the poverty line; most workers have not been paid for months or even a year; closing down of factories and large layoffs are quite commonplace. Demanding delayed wages, fighting dismissals and to keep the workplace running are the key demands of the workers’ struggle. Even though the demands are of a defensive character the manner of protest is not.
2/ Workers in Iran have been engaging in a remarkable and brave protest movement against poverty and low wages; also for the freedom of political prisoners. This has been going on all the time. However the last 2 years has seen a surge in the protest movement. Why do you think this movement is not succeeding? What are the obstacles?
AM: IR is in a deep economic, political and social crisis. Even If it wanted to respond to workers’ demands it could not. This regime due to its political and ideological characteristics was from the outset incapable of integrating in the world capitalist economy and its birth was intertwined with crisis. Having said that in the past 41 years this crisis has deepened daily; moreover, it is comprised of vultures that have plundered the country; the amount of embezzlement and exporting funds from the country abroad is huge. Spending big sums of money on nuclear development, arms and running a terrorist war in the region is another reason for lack of funds. Since the beginning of the uprising the rate of inflation and exchange rate has gone up enormously. Of course the sanctions do not help. Money laundering and efforts to bypass the sanctions have meant a great deal of money has been stolen by economic mafia. Most public funds, e.g. social security fund have been plundered by government top officials, who are all part of the big IR family. Therefore, for workers to reach their demands and fight poverty they need to topple the regime. IR is incapable of making any reforms or bow down to workers’ demands. To topple the regime something that the majority want and strive for is not an easy task.
The West under the leadership of the US wants and tries to implement a regime- change, but it has not succeeded. The workers and toiling masses need a political alternative. We need a strong Worker-communist party to lead the workers through a revolution. At the moment masses don’t want the regime and want to topple it but they are not strong enough or organised enough to do so. Therefore, the struggle goes on.
3/ 41 years has passed since the 1979 uprising against the Shah’s regime. How would you summarise what happened and where the society is going? Lessons, experiences, gains, defeats. What went wrong? What is your call to the people about the coming so called general elections for the “parliament”?
AM: 41 years ago, Iran went through a great political uprising which led to overthrow of the monarchy and the Shah had to flee the country. But this uprising/revolution was skilfully managed by the West under the US leadership. The word regime-change was not part of the political dictionary at the time; it came to existence at the time of George Bush junior and the time of attack on Iraq in 2003. However, the West, basically the US implemented a regime-change in Iran. The fear of Communism, at the time of the Cold War, made it imperative for the West to bring another reactionary faction to replace the monarchy.
The “Green Belt” thesis of Carter- Berzhinesky, i.e. to use Islamists as buffer against the Soviet Union and to push back Communism was put into practice and the Islamist movement under the leadership of Khomeini were brought to foreground; they skilfully managed to turn Khomeini into a leader over a few months. The society then was much more naïve; the left not organised and basically populist. The plan worked; Khomeini and the Islamists took over and began to suppress all the opposition from day one. Two and a half years later when the opposition had gained momentum and grew in number and popularity the regime organised a blood bath. The regime, ever since has ruled by killing, torture, and silencing any voice of opposition.
As it was mentioned in response to question 1, there have been large protest movements at least once every decade; and each time these protests have been brutally crushed. But this last round despite all the efforts by IR to quash the movement, has been going on. This time it is different. People are not giving up; they continue. This time around, the slogans are much more radicalised. “Death to the Islamic regime” has echoed in different cities for the first time.
In November 2019, a hike in petrol price triggered a wave of protest all over the country; people set fire to IR’s symbols; slogans were calling for overthrow of the regime; people took control of parts of some cities, like Shiraz. The security forces in uniform and plain clothes shot people in the head or heart from rooftops, on motorcycles and in cars. There is no exact number of casualties, however it is said that 1500 people mostly young and some children have died, around 10 thousand injured and another 10 thousand arrested. For a month after bodies were being found in lakes and dams around the country.
The regime was under the impression that this brutal assault would put a stop to the protest movement, be it for a period. But only two weeks later on the Student day the leftist students organised protests in almost all the universities around the country, condemning the mass killing of November uprising, the arrest of workers leaders and activists, mass poverty, and gender apartheid. This, once more showed how the society has become polarised and it also showed the determination of the people to continue their struggle to overthrow the regime.
4/ Do you think the regime uses its foreign policy and terrorist actions in order to contain the protests in Iran? How has the international and regional situation affected the suppressive machinery of the regime? Has it helped the regime to increase suppression or it has actually provided an opportunity for the working class to inflict a blow to the regime?
AM: From the outset IR invested in mobilising an Islamic terrorist campaign and war in the region; trying to confiscate the Palestinian cause and propaganda against Israel; spending huge funds in arming and organising Islamist groups; winning over and strengthening Hezb o’allah in Lebanon and after the 2003 attack on Iraq it moved into Iraq and organised and mobilised so-called Shia groups such as Hashdol Shabi; and later it got deeply involved in Syria in support of Asad government and organised mass murders in Syria.
IR has led the Islamic terrorism not only in the region but also in other parts of the world. This so-called foreign policy has not made it more popular in Iran; on the contrary it has added fuel to people’s discontent. But it has helped the regime to rise to a position of a regional power; making the region more dangerous and chaotic;. However, the recent protest movements in Iraq and Lebanon were a great blow to IR, making it even weaker in the domestic front. IR is in deep crisis both internally and in the region.
5/ Do you think the protest movement in the November 2019 united people in an all out demand to overthrow the regime? What are the alternatives? Do you think the right wing opposition, so called “reformists” or even the son of Shah have any popularity or chance to gain power in Iran?
AM: Definitely; the public call for overthrow of the regime began two years ago. The brutal attack on people’s protests; the effort to quash this movement; the arrest of workers leaders and activists; women’s rights activists; and any opposition activists has only deepened people’s anger and hatred. The November uprising was a turning point; everyone saw it. Both the people and the regime realised that the days of this regime are numbered. As a result the state-reformist faction has shifted to the right wing opposition, i.e., the pro-West nationalists or the supporters of the previous regime.
The state-reformists have no popularity; people rightly consider them as part and parcel of the regime; the slogan: “reformists, hardliners, story is over” that was first echoed in Tehran two years ago has become the dominant narrative of the political climate. Regarding Reza Pahlavi, the son of the Shah, a great deal of money is being invested to raise him to the position of the leader of the opposition; the West is investing on him for their regime-change scenario. However, so far all these political campaigns have failed.
People are much wiser and savvier this time. They are aware of the history of the previous regime change. There is also a strong left leaning and Communist movement in Iran. Mansoor Hekmat, the leader of the Working-communist movement is popular among the left in Iran. His works are read and discussed by left students, youth and workers. Therefore the regime and the right wing opposition try very hard to discredit him. One of the characteristics of the Iranian political scene is the existence of outspoken and organised Communist organisations abroad, mostly those who fled the mass killing of the 80s and sought refuge in the West. The left is very active in exposing the right wing opposition and the regime-change plan by the West.
Do the right wing opposition have a chance to gain power? Yes, they do. It’s all about power. They have the backing of the West and the international bourgeoisie; they have huge funding and media. In one word they have the world power and money at their disposal. If a regime-change scenario ever comes to realisation, they are the candidates. Having said that, this time around a regime-change is not easy. They have been trying for the past two years and still no success; they haven’t even come close.
The ball is in our court. We Worker-communists must do our outmost to organise the working class, the toiling masses, the women’s liberation movement and all the freedom- loving and egalitarian section of the population to overthrow the regime and organise a socialist revolution. It’s not easy, but not impossible.
⏭ Asar Majedi is a Member of Hekmatist Party leadership & Chairperson of Organisation for Women’s Liberation