Revolution #172, August 9, 2009
IRAN’S CONTINUING UPHEAVAL:
DIVISIONS AT THE TOP, ANGER AND RESISTANCE FROM BELOW
The biggest political crisis in Iran since the 1978-79 revolution that overthrew the U.S. lackey, the Shah, and brought the Islamic Republic and clerical theocracy to power continues to unfold. Divisions at the top of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) are sharpening. Rage at Iran’s rulers is deepening, not ebbing, fueled in part by new revelations of official brutality and murder. And thousands continue to courageously defy brutal state repression to go into the streets as well as speak out in other ways against the regime.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Israeli rulers (whose actions, including sanctions, covert operations, threats of war, and Obama’s diplomatic and propaganda initiatives, contributed to this unexpected crisis), are openly evaluating what impact recent developments will have on their efforts to contain and weaken Iran as a regional power and obstacle to their own imperialist hegemony. Against this backdrop, their talk of “crippling sanctions” and possible military attack is growing louder.
Mourning Neda Agha-Soltan
The latest outpouring of opposition took place on Thursday, July 30, when thousands (some estimated tens of thousands) tried to gather at the gravesite of Neda Agha-Soltan in Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery in Tehran to mark the 40th day since her murder by the IRI in defiance of a government ban on protests. Neda had become a worldwide symbol of the uprising—and the regime’s murderous brutality. When mourners attempted to gather, they were attacked by the regime’s police and paramilitary forces, sprayed with tear gas, and clubbed. Protesters, whose chants included “death to the dictator,” “this government is dead,” and “Neda lives! [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad is dead!” reportedly tried to regroup and march through Tehran. Large crowds also gathered in central and northern Tehran, and they too were attacked by police. The New York Times called it “some of the largest and most violent street clashes in weeks.” (Democracy Now! and NYT, July 31, 2009)
There are calls for more demonstrations in coming days and weeks, including a call circulating for everyone in Tehran to come into the streets—and for no one to stay home—on Wednesday, August 5, to protest Ahmadinejad’s swearing in.
(For more coverage of the Iranian people’s uprising, see “Live from Iran: Excerpts from A World To Win News Service Coverage,” Revolution #171, August 2, 2009, revcom.us/a/171/live_from_iran‑en.html.)
Iran’s Dungeons of Torture and Murder
In recent days there have been new revelations about the IRI’s vicious attempt to crush the people’s uprising with torture and murder. These revelations have poured fuel on the flames of mass outrage against the Islamic Republic but also provide a very stark exposure of the horrors of religious fundamentalism in power.
Accounts of the widespread abuse of arrested protesters in Iran’s jails have come forward—and been spread on the web—thanks to the courage of friends, relatives, and former prisoners. The New York Times reports on several online posts:
“We were all standing so close to each other that no one could move. The plainclothes guards came into the room and broke all the light bulbs, and in the pitch dark started beating us, whoever they could.” By morning, at least four detainees were dead, he added.
“In another account posted online, a former detainee describes being made to lie facedown on the floor of a police station bathroom, where an officer would step on his neck and force him to lick the toilet bowl as the officer cursed reformist politicians.
“A woman described having her hair pulled as interrogators demanded that she confess to having sex with political figures. When she was finally released, she was forced—like many others—to sign a paper saying she had never been mistreated.”
Others describe fingernails being pulled out. Hospital officials have reported evidence of over 100 deaths since June 12. And more and more families are receiving the battered corpses of their loved ones.
(“Reports of Prison Abuse and Deaths Anger Iranians,” New York Times, July 28, 2009. For more exposure of prison brutality, see From Iran: “Urgent call to defend arrested youth from torture and ‘disappearance’” (July 6, 2009. A World to Win News Service), issued July 3 by the Iranian student newsletter Bazr (bazr1384.com and bazr1384.blogfa.com); and A World to Win News Service, July 13, 2009, “Tehran doctor: ‘The authorities are covering up the number of dead,’” Revolution #170, July 19, 2009 at revcom.us/a/170/AWTWNS-Tehran_doctor-en.html.)
Unprecedented Crisis of Legitimacy and A Leap in Revolutionary Sentiments
The immediate trigger for this crisis was the apparent rigging of the June 12 presidential election which returned current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office. This seemingly stolen election sprung from bitter factional infighting at the highest levels of the clerical/Islamist establishment over how to best preserve their reactionary theocratic rule. And the election theft and these fissures in Iran’s ruling structure opened the door for a mass outpouring by millions of Iranians, the likes of which hasn’t been seen for 30 years, both immediately before and especially after the stolen election.
While this uprising was initially sparked by the stolen election, and encompasses many different viewpoints (including many who—at least for now—follow the more liberal of the Iranian theocrats and hope that the Islamic Republic can be reformed for the better), at a deeper level, it reflects the profound hatred significant sections of Iranian society have for the stifling, oppressive character of life under Islamic theocratic rule, anger which is deepening with each outrage committed by the IRI to maintain its grip on political power. This in turn has intensified the divisions at the top of the Islamic state, and clerical infighting has then created new opportunities for expressions of mass anger and discontent. All of this has radically changed Iran’s political terrain, compared to even a few months ago. Maj. Gen. Ali Jafari, the head of the regime’s Revolutionary Guards, talked of needing to unleash his troops “to quell a spiraling unrest.” (Roger Cohen, New York Review of Books, August 13, 2009)
“An analytical declaration on the present crisis and the tasks of revolutionary communists” by the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) dated June 28, 2009 calls the situation, “an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy for the Islamic Republic of Iran and a leap in revolutionary sentiments among the masses of people.”
“It was clear from the beginning that we were going to face an intense situation with the presidential election,” the document states. “But nobody imagined the extent of its dimensions or the degree of bloodiness.” (A World to Win News Service, July 27, 2009)
(See also V.T., “Response To Election Fraud Reveals Deep Schisms in Iranian Ruling Circle and Broad Based Profound Hatred of the Regime—UPRISING IN IRAN,” at revcom.us/a/169/Iran‑en.html; and Larry Everest, “Roots of the Iranian Uprising: A Society Drowning in Corruption, Destruction, Superstition, Dark Religious Ignorance, Drug Addiction and Prostitution,” Revolution #169, June 28, 2009, revcom.us/a/169/iranian_uprising‑en.html)
Iran’s Rulers: Unable to Rule in the Old Way
The fractures within Iran’s ruling class—both those between the “reformist” wing and those currently in control of the state, as well as among those currently in power—have continued to intensify despite the efforts of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Ahmadinejad, and their allies to quash dissent and opposition.
Some examples give a flavor of the breadth and intensity of these disputes. On July 17, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the founding members of the Islamic Republic and a major godfather-type figure in Iran who backed Mir Hossein Mousavi in the June 12 election, condemned Ahmadinejad’s (and implicitly Khamenei’s) leadership, calling the situation a “crisis” and warning that the ruling class could “collapse” if steps weren’t taken to bridge the growing gap between ruled and rulers.
Two days later former President Khatami called for a referendum which would basically overturn the results of the election. The next day Supreme Leader Khamenei counter-attacked, warning the critics to be careful and—sounding like the Bush regime’s Ari Fleischer—to watch what they said.
This was followed by an open letter from 70 leading opposition movement figures condemning the government’s crackdown for being “illegal, immoral” and using “irreligious methods,” while demanding the release of those arrested. Revelations of prison abuse have also sparked bitter recriminations among Iran’s rulers.
There are also growing fractures among the so-called “conservatives” now currently in power. Ahmadinejad was forced by Khameini to rescind his pick for First Vice President, Esfiander Rahim Mashaei. Ahmadinejad then turned around and made Mashaei his top aide, causing an uproar in right-wing circles and leading to speculation that Ahmadinejad may not serve out his term.
The CPI-MLM calls the situation “an unprecedented split among the rulers on top (an expression of the fact that they can no longer rule in the same way as in the past),” intensified over the past several years: “The continual economic crisis, the deep dissatisfaction regarding the regime among various classes and strata of the people and U.S. imperialism’s pressure on the IRI were the most important factors intensifying the regime’s international contradictions.” (Statement of June 28)
Their differences are over how to best preserve the Islamic Republic. “One faction believes that the whole system will fall apart without some reform in the IRI’s ruling structures. The other fears that such reforms would trigger the regime’s collapse,” the CPI-MLM states. (Four days before the election, Yadollah Javani, head of the Revolutionary Guard political office, warned that if Mousavi or others wanted a velvet revolution, it would be “quashed before it is born.” (Roger Cohen, New York Review of Books, August 13, 2009)
And, at least for the present, all the IRI’s leading political figures and factions—including those who have condemned the June 12 election—are working furiously to direct that discontent toward maintaining and strengthening—not weakening, much less overthrowing—the Islamic Republic.
Obama and U.S. Imperialism—No Friends of the Iranian People
In the midst of this crisis, what is the U.S. and its partner in the region, Israel, up to?
The Islamic fundamentalist rulers of Iran have for some time been clashing with the U.S. and its allies in the region. The IRI has sought to strengthen their position in a situation where the U.S. has faced difficulties and a knot of contradictions. For the U.S. the existence of this Islamic regime and what it is doing poses an obstacle and threat to unfettered U.S. domination and hegemony in the Middle East.
At root, this is contention taking place—within the framework of imperialist relations—between two historically outmoded, reactionary strata, both of which are exploiters and oppressors. One of these outmoded strata exists among colonized and oppressed peoples—and the other “outmoded” is the ruling strata of the imperialist system. The country of Iran remains in the grip of the world capitalist-imperialist system. The objective of the Iranian ruling class is not to break free of the world imperialist system. The maneuverings and moves of the Iranian ruling class, including up against the U.S., are aimed at advancing the interests and ambitions of the regime within the confines of the imperialist system. It is this system that lies at the root of the oppression of the Iranian people.
Today, even while offering some expressions of support and concern, the U.S. rulers have never publicly questioned or condemned the results of the June 12 election, and have made clear their continued willingness to deal with the butchers of the IRI. This points to the fact that U.S. actions are guided by imperialist interests, in particular its perceived need to contain and if need be cripple or bring down the IRI in order to roll back its regional influence, prevent it from further developing its nuclear energy program, deal a blow to anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism globally and strengthen U.S. regional hegemony. The issue of liberating the Iranian people is not part of this agenda.
In this atmosphere of tension and uncertainty, there are alarming signs that stepped-up imperialist intervention and aggression, and possibly military attacks against Iran, are becoming more likely. Vice President Joe Biden recently commented that it’s Israel’s sovereign right to bomb Iran to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power (and there’s still no firm evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons). Former UN Ambassador and Bush official John Bolton writes (“It’s Crunch Time for Israel On Iran,” Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2009) that Israel will likely strike Iran by December if the nuclear issue isn’t resolved: “absent Israeli action, prepare for a nuclear Iran.” Neocon Senator Joe Lieberman recently stated that a military strike is the “only” option if sanctions don’t force Iran to give up its nuclear program. (WashingtonTV, July 31, 2009)
Obama seemed to contradict this position the day after Biden spoke—stating he wanted the issue solved “in a peaceful way,” and just this past week top U.S. officials—Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones—met with Israeli officials to discuss Iran.
The well-connected Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports (July 31) that while Gates told the Israelis that the U.S. “red light” against attacking Iran (something top Israeli officials have repeatedly threatened) still stood, “the Americans—influenced by the Iranian regime’s conduct toward the post‑election unrest that began in early June—are for the first time showing more understanding for Israel’s view of events. The United States is more skeptical than before about the likelihood that a diplomatic dialogue, or even harsh sanctions should that option fail, will dissuade the Iranians from their goal.” Iran has so far not responded officially to Obama’s offer of talks, and the U.S. and its allies are reportedly stepping up their timetable for an Iranian reply—now demanding one in September.
Haaretz also notes that these talks took place just after the completion of a joint American-Israeli exercise at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base. Dubbed Red Flag, it included training for in-flight refueling of Israeli jets by American airplanes, and “the participation of a squadron of Israeli F-16i (“Storm”) jets, the new model that will bear the brunt of long‑range target attacks should the need arise.” (See also Air Force News Today, July 22, 2009, www.nellis.af.mil/news/story_print.asp?id=123160032)
(Haaretz also notes that while there may be differences between Israel and the Obama administration on Iran, strategic cooperation continues: “Though it seems the red light on an Israeli attack still stands, the recurrent warnings by Israel’s prime and defense ministers about all options being on the table actually serve American interests: They allow Obama to wave the Israeli stick at the Iranians as part of his effort to get the Iranians to agree to a dialogue, and possibly even to concessions.”)
“Let’s Go Iranian”
Given imperialism’s historical and present-day domination of Iran (even as the particular forms it has taken have gone through various changes), and ongoing U.S., Israeli and European intervention in and threats against Iran, it’s imperative that people in this country both support the just struggle of the Iranian people and oppose all the moves by our own rulers to maintain their suffocating and deadly grip on Iran and the region.
The heroic struggle of millions has not only changed the political landscape in Iran, it is also reverberating globally. This is what one New York high school teacher posted at Huffington Post (on Nico Pitney’s blog, posted July 20, 2009):
“I teach at a NYC high school, and recently one student stood up to our very intimidating principal, (something that almost never happens). When he did not get permission for what he intended to do, another student said ‘Let’s go iranian on him.’ By that he meant organize a protest. And so now they ‘IRAN’ anything they want to change. So it has become a verb now and to ‘Iran’ the situation is to stand up to authority, well at least here in this corner of the universe. And it is a huge bonus for me because I cannot usually get them to even pay attention to another part of the world.
“Point being, even these students who get very small amounts of news equate ‘Iranian’ with bravery and I completely agree, and wish I had that kind of intestinal fortitude. You have our greatest admiration and respect!”
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.