Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
In the Streets of Los Angeles Around the Revolutionary Upheaval in Iran
On Sunday, June 28, 5,000-7,000 Iranians from all over southern California rallied at the West Los Angeles Federal Building in a massive outpouring of protest against oppressive character of life under the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) and in support of the mass resistance that has been turning Iranian society upside down since the contested presidential elections in early June. When people took to the streets to march through nearby Westwood (known as “Tehrangeles”, a combination of Tehran and Los Angeles, because of the high concentration of Iranians living in this area), the crowd grew to 10,000-15,000.
People who came out to the Federal Building the week following the Iran elections with the slogan, “Where’s my vote?” were now raising the chants heard early that day in the streets of Tehran: “Marg Bar Dic-ta-tor!” (death to the dictator), “Death to Khamenei” (the supreme leader) and “Death to Khatami” (a hard-line ayatollah close to the regime who said in a nationally broadcast sermon that protestors should be executed).
People spoke angrily about the increasingly brutal government repression of the protests in Iran, like the widely seen YouTube video of the cold-blooded execution of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman shot to death by secret police forces in the early days of the protests, and increasing stories about people being tortured and in some cases murdered in the government prisons. There was a sense, especially among the youth, that it was on them to be the “voice” of their loved ones in Iran who are under an extreme clampdown.
It was a big mix of forces:
- There were people who support the idea of an Iranian government based on Islam, but they’re split into different groupings – many who support Mousavi, the pro-IRI presidential candidate who was declared the loser of the election by the leadership of the IRI, but others who oppose Mousavi and say that they want a “progressive” Islamic government.
- Thousands of others want to see a secular and democratic Iran, but at this point feel that means an Iran tied to the West, especially the U.S. At the same time, we found widespread fear and concern about threats of military attack on Iran by the U.S. or others.
- There also was a large, organized core of anti-communist and pro-imperialist supporters of the Shah, the brutal pro-U.S. monarch overthrown in 1979. They condemn the IRI and its fundamentalist Islamic theocratic rule, but never say a word about the towering crimes carried out under the Shah’s regime before he was driven from power. They were trying to appeal to patriotic sentiments among the crowd (like singing the national anthem sung during the Shah’s time), and used the fact that they were the ones who got the permit for the march and led things from the stage to censor the “We don’t want the Shah either” slogan that had been heard in the streets of Tehran.
- Women have been a major part of the demonstrations in Iran, and they also made their presence felt here. One popular sign said: “Women of the World Unite!” Others denounced the forced hijab, the Islamic head covering ordered by the IRI regime. More than a few young women covered their faces in unity with the youth in Iran fighting in the street, but left their heads bare.
- We found that the youth want something “new” and they call it democracy, but they are for the most part in significant motion politically and open to discussion and struggle over communism and what would represent true freedom in Iran, open to discussion over the different class forces in Iran and what they represent and over the real history of U.S. imperialist intervention in Iran and the region. Few knew the coming to power of the IRI was in significant ways facilitated by the U.S.
- There was a small, but significant, minority of avowed leftists, including some self-described communists, and broader progressive forces who oppose both the IRI and the Shah. There was a very deep anti-U.S. imperialism stance, especially among older people with more political experience and consciousness. Many had family members or friends killed under the Shah, and others killed under Ayatollah Khomeini. A number of people said that the U.S. had a hand in Khomeini getting into power, and there was lots of discussion of the struggle against the Shah.
- And within all this were our small group of supporters of the RCP, calling on people to support a tremendous revolutionary upsurge of the masses of Iranian people against the reactionary Islamic Republic of Iran government, and in particular helping to popularize the Communist Party of Iran (MLM) and its efforts to lead that upsurge in a direction in the interest of all of humanity.
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Earlier that afternoon, 25 people met at Libros Revolución bookstore in downtown LA to talk about the uprising in Iran, and to dig into the analysis in the pages of Revolution. One of the key points that we wrestled with was the decisive importance which line and program come to lead the upsurge. Millions of Iranian people have been drawn into political struggle and debate in recent weeks, and many within this want to see an end to the IRI altogether. But spontaneously, people won’t see the potential (or even the need) for this struggle to go over to a fight for revolution rather than trying to reform the current set-up—and there are many forces “in the field” that are working as hard as they can to steer things in a direction that will ultimately leave the masses of Iranians still oppressed and exploited.
One of the Iranians who attended the store discussion spoke in Farsi about the need for correct leadership, using the example of the struggle of the minority Kurdish people living in Iran and neighboring countries and how the Kurds had been repeatedly used and played for decades by various imperialist and opportunist forces. Another Iranian said that people in this country need to understand how precious the analysis of Revolution and the leadership of Bob Avakian are in times like this. “Can you imagine where things could be if they had a paper like Revolution and a leader like Bob Avakian in Iran? People need to know there is a party in Iran that studies Bob Avakian.”
There was also discussion of how a lot of “radical” forces in the U.S. were finding themselves supporting the IRI, arguing that since the U.S. wants to carry out “regime change” in Iran (which it definitely does) and the western imperialist press is reporting favorably about the demonstrations over the Iranian election, this means that progressives and revolutionaries should back the IRI as an “anti-imperialist” act. Some have gone so far as to try to invent something “progressive” about Ahmadinejad and to denounce the students in the streets for “damaging public property” during the recent street fighting!
Fresh off of that discussion, a small number of us went out to the massive demonstration determined to bring people a revolutionary communist analysis and do what we could to strengthen support for the rebel forces in Iran.
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There was a pronounced sentiment coming from almost everyone at the demonstration that they wanted to see the protests in Iran continue – but for different reasons. We found that different sections of people have many different ideas about what line, what program, should be supported and in what direction should Iran go.
And just as many forces are contending for the allegiance of the Iranian people in Iran itself, we found the same thing going on here in southern California. The unfolding events in Iran have clearly been shifting the thinking and ideas of people broadly. While there are organized forces fighting for specific programs, we found many, many more people who are drawn to this or that position today, but struggling to figure out what is really needed and seriously weighing other positions.
We spent the day trying to get out broadly to people with Revolution while at the same time digging into the bigger questions with the advanced. People were drawn to our large displays of the front page of issue no. 169, “Uprising in Iran” and the centerfold statement by Bob Avakian, “If you can conceive of a world without America....” Many were intrigued that there is a revolutionary communist party in this country and there was a definite buzz that we were “in the house.” Not many people seemed to know the Communist Party of Iran (MLM) but eagerly picked up their communiques in Farsi. Over 200 copies of Revolution and 150 copies of the CPI communiques were distributed, and we sold a small number of the RCP’s Manifesto, “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage.”
Throughout the day, a small but significant number of people who identified themselves as communists or Marxist-Leninists found us. They have been deeply affected by the anti-communist ideological barrage of the last decades, by the loss of revolutionary China, and they also are struggling to understand the failure of the 1979 revolution in Iran. There was lots of struggle over whether communism is still a viable path for Iran and the world, and this opened up the question of what kind of revolution is needed, and the work by Bob Avakian to sum up the profound lessons of the first wave of socialist revolutions, concentrated in his new synthesis. These discussions were very significant and more than one self-described communist expressed their joy at having found us – a number of them said, “Oh, you’re Bob Avakian’s group!” and talked about how they remember that the RCP stood firmly in support of the Iranian people’s revolutionary struggle against the Shah in the late 70’s.
A broad section of people we spoke with are opposed to both the IRI and the Shah. They do not trust Mousavi’s promise of reform, in part because he firmly upholds the basic framework of an Islamic Republic. Many felt compelled to check out our analysis about the infighting in the ruling circles of the IRI, what the U.S. and Obama represent, and the need for revolutionary forces to come to the fore. A number of them agreed with Bob Avakian’s statement about the need to fight the “two outmodeds” (imperialism, and reactionary Islamic fundamentalism) and they were eager to engage in discussion about bringing forward something far more liberating than either the horrors of Islamic fundamentalist rule or the horrors of U.S. imperialist domination.
But we also found that people broadly are having a difficult time thinking beyond the ideas and structures of bourgeois democracy. We asked, how can you talk about democracy without talking about classes and which class will rule, and how can a democracy led by the bourgeoisie actually uproot the intractable problems that are driving the people of Iran to rise up – the oppression of women, the suppression of the youth, the exploitation of Iran, it’s people and resources and it’s enforced subservience to imperialist powers. What the Iranian people need, we argued, is a new democratic revolution and they need socialism.
People were also affected by the posters and speeches by the Shah supporters appealing to world leaders to “help free the Iranian people” from the oppressive IRI. Slogans like “World Leaders, Speak Out to Stop the Human Rights Violations” and “Don’t Be Silent America, Hear Neda Calling” had the objective effect of trying to take the initiative out of the hands of the masses of people here and in Iran and give it to the imperialist powers. And there were widespread illusions among democratic Iranians that Obama “should be doing more.” We had a lot of sharp struggle with people over both the history of U.S. domination in Iran and how this is rooted in the very nature of the imperialist system, not some mistaken “policy” of past U.S. rulers.
Among some of the older people who had been active during the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah, we found deep rooted anti-U.S. imperialist sentiment born from their knowledge and experience. These people had family members or friends who had been killed under the rule by the Shah, or executed later with the rise to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini. There is still a hunger to understand what happened, why the revolution that overthrew the Shah brought the reactionary Islamic Republic to power. People of this generation know that the U.S. had a hand in Khomeini coming into power, but it isn’t enough to know what happened, they want to know why it took place and how it could have been different.
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There haven’t been any demonstrations as big as the one on June 28 since then, and the frequency and size of the protests has tapered off. At the same time, many in the Iranian community are closely following the continuing turmoil in Iran, and there is a real possibility of more outbreaks of protest here in the U.S. We will keep you informed of further developments.
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