Editors’ note: Somayeh Kargar is a former political prisoner in Iran. She was arrested in October 2020 and released in 2021. Among her five codefendants were Mehran Raouf and Nahid Taghavi who are still unjustly held in Tehran’s Evin prison. She was charged with establishing and running the Osyan Women's Collective1 and acting for the Communist Party of Iran (MLM). Narges Mohammadi is a long-time fighter against the reactionary Islamic regime of Iran and currently a political prisoner.2 This letter is posted in Farsi in Atash/Fire journal #146, January 2024 issue at cpimlm.org. It was translated to English by International Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners Now (IEC) volunteers. Translators’ minor notations/edits for clarification are in brackets.
Greetings to you and to the rest of the imprisoned comrades! With enthusiasm and attention, I read Angelina Jolie's interview with you,3 and listened to your message at the Nobel ceremony, which was read by your precious children. Again, as always, you tried to show the brutal, dark-mindedness and murderous nature of the Islamic Republic, to be a justice-advocate for all the prisoners, and to cry out against the suffering of the people, especially the women. Thank you for your persistent and breathtaking efforts to expose the regime’s repressive torture apparatus, for showing the centrality of the struggle to free the political prisoners to the way forward, and to the overthrow of this regime. In the face of the dirty attacks by reactionaries, and sometimes by ignorant friends, stay strong and hold your head high.
We live in a world where reality is deliberately concealed, where facts are deliberately and methodically distorted and twisted, so that the truth about this obsolete world order that exists today and its horrifying outcomes appear to be “normal,” part of the human condition, and to make getting rid of this system seem impossible and unnecessary. In such a situation, where discovering the truth and understanding its relationship to emancipation and to fighting for it can be considered the biggest crime, there is no more powerful tool than seeing reality, discovering the truth and shouting it out, no matter the cost to us.
Dear Narges: I well understand the limitations of prison, but you yourself made it clear that, “I will never let prison stand in my way.” And up to now, you have shown that these words are not just a slogan. Your voice and the voices of our fellow prisoners from behind the walls of Evin have great power and influence, and now with the Nobel Prize, they are being echoed worldwide. It is important that this get fused with the global movement against the Israeli genocide in Gaza. This Peace Prize is awarded at a time when we are witnessing the normalization of [war] crimes in the Middle East. Humanity is standing on the brink of an existential abyss, and the people of Iran and Palestine are part of this humanity that is at risk of being destroyed.
Sometimes events outside of our control will part the heavens like a thunderbolt, revealing the truth to hundreds of millions of people in a way that talking to them for 20 years could not have achieved. The genocidal war on Gaza being waged by Israel and the U.S. did this. Twenty thousand people have been killed so far, and it is unclear how many more will die, and where else in the Middle East it might flare up. For 45 years, the Islamic Republic has been calling itself the protector of the Palestinians. This makes it our responsibility to expose the Islamic Republic’s deceit toward Palestine, and to tell the people that the national aspirations of the Palestinian people mean zilch to this regime.
The Islamic Republic is a bloodsucker that has attached itself to the bodies of the Palestinian people. We must not allow them to wrap their rotten banner of Islamism around the cause of the Palestinian people, or use the blood of the Palestinian people and their 75-year-old displacement to showcase the might [of the Islamic Republic]. Our people have become indifferent towards the Palestinian people and their sufferings due to their deep hatred of the Islamic Republic. But, whatever its source, ignorance is ignorance. Ignorance about the realities of this world is dangerous, and a problem that must be solved.
Today, “democracy” and “peace” deliver the bombs that fall on schools and hospitals in Gaza, Khan Yunis and Rafah, the dismembered body of a child protruding from the rubble, the body of a Palestinian woman burned alive by a white phosphorus bomb, the young child sobbing over her parents’ dead bodies. These are the true faces of the West’s human rights and democracy, and of Israel that is their military garrison. Today, truth in Palestine is soaked in blood by Western democratic bombs shot from the cannon-barrel of democracy.
The democracies of Europe and the U.S. have banned looking at these truths and talking about them. Award ceremonies for Palestinian and Jewish novelists who have expressed these truths in their novels and articles have been canceled in the very democratic Germany. In the democratic U.S., fascist representatives in Congress ordered that the presidents of prestigious universities be removed [from the floor of Congress], because they refused to go along with the “prohibition of thinking.”
This protracted deathbed of truth and humanity has revealed an important reality to people all around the world. The horrifying reality of bourgeois democracy becomes apparent as its pretense falls apart before our eyes—the revelation itself [as] a result of the workings of the very same global system that proclaims democracy. The system that has shaped and sunk its claws into people's intellectual life, that indoctrinates these ideas, has been forced to act contrary to its own assertions. Some of the people who sincerely believed in the assertions and claims of bourgeois democracy discourse and have been fighting for its realization, have been deeply shaken—or better put, are shedding their illusions. They have to choose between turning a blind eye to reality or taking a hard look at the discrepancy between reality and what is claimed, confronting the real consequences of this conflict on people’s lives. This is difficult to do, and maybe not everyone is up to the task, but searching for truth is a fundamental advantage that opens up pathways.
This year's Nobel Peace Prize is granted at a time when nothing in the world is “routine.” The old world order is in shambles and the laws and principles that govern the world are not working as they once did. But something important is happening: the naked reality of democracy is being more explicitly revealed. Within these democracies themselves, large waves of people are questioning their beliefs about it. In the U.S., people have begun to learn about the relationship between democracy within the U.S. and its [global] pillaging and exploitation; about its support for military and torture regimes in all parts of the world; about its war crimes and domination on the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Latin America; about the 700 US military bases around the world and its support for the genocide of Palestinian people; along with its history of genocide against Native Americans and enslavement of Black people. This new awakening should be celebrated, while at the same time it needs to be deepened to reveal the roots and source in the economic, social and political system of imperialism-capitalism that prevails throughout the world, including in Iran.
The war of survival that you mentioned is not limited to the people of Iran. The functioning of the global capitalist system constantly generates poverty, war, displacement and oppression for the majority of the world’s people. Only a minority in the Global North can enjoy a relative prosperity derived from the wealth produced by billions of adults and children in the Global South. In order for the technologists, scientists and artists in the U.S. to work and enjoy some leisure, children must go to work in the mines of the Congo. Peace is a bitter joke for billions of people around the world. The democracy, peace and human rights that exist in “Western” countries are made possible by exercising dictatorship and tyranny in the Global South, and by the benefits and profit derived from it. In fact, the existing world system is able to wear the mask of democracy in ordinary circumstances, and to remove it in times of crises, such as now.
These facts have always been known to a few. I had the good fortune to meet revolutionary communists who introduced me to these truths in a deeply scientific and comprehensive way. But in order to change the world, it is necessary for hundreds of millions of people to grasp these facts—and the root source of destructive wars, the growth of fundamentalist forces, femicide, racism, the destruction of the environment, etc.—in order for them to come to the conclusion that this system must be overthrown, not just in Iran, not just in Turkey, Egypt and these types of countries, but even in the U.S. Yes, in the U.S., where making revolution will lift the heavy burden of oppression and exploitation from the backs of billions of people around the world.
If I had an interview with Angelina Jolie, this is what I would have emphasized, because all the “good-hearted” people in the world deserve to know the whole truth, so they can serve the goals of such a revolution and live a truly meaningful life.
This is an opportunity and a situation that simply must not be missed. Even the staff members in the Biden administration and in the U.S. Congress were shocked to see the contradiction between the ideals they believe in and the reality that is occurring. Some of them resigned and held a sit-in in front of the Congress to protest the ongoing massacre of the people of Gaza that is supported by Biden. As a former 2020 Biden campaign and Biden admin staffer wrote, “Yes, I still view Trump as a fascist. Yes, I still view Trump's potential 2nd presidency as inherently more dangerous than a Biden 2nd term. But, I cannot morally justify working for someone who is supporting a massacre, someone who is as out of touch with Israel's role in a genocide as he is. I can better spend my time working and advocating for a genuine cause. It's not just me. I know many people from the admin/WH and campaign who are feeling the exact same way: a knowledge of how close fascism is to us, and yet a refusal to cross the moral lines of working for an Admin's campaign that is actively lifting up a genocide.”
As you rightly said, the uprising made the voice of our struggle global. But what was the uprising, and what does it have to do with the Islamic Republic and the global system? The Jina uprising is part of the global struggle of women against their conditions in this world.
Male supremacy is woven into the fabric of the current global system. Under the rule of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran, its concentrated expression is the compulsory hijab. In the U.S., where the majority of the judges on the Supreme Court are Christian fundamentalist fascists, it takes the form of banning abortion. It is assumed that religious fundamentalism and the Islamic Republic are an awkward misfit with the body of the global system. But the Islamic Republic, and the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and North Africa, are the product of the devastating economic policies and practice of Western imperialist powers in this region. The Western world, led by the U.S., does not export democracy around the world. Their achievement has been the export to the world of those production relations and infrastructures that spread exploitation and oppression, to serve their own interests.
We still recall the catastrophe caused by the export of NATO-flavored U.S. democracy to Afghanistan, and the tragic consequences for the people of that country. Did the U.S. ever think about the interests of the Afghan people when they established the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and then handed Afghanistan back to the Taliban? Never!
We have the experience of U.S. democracy exported to Iran in the form of the Pahlavi monarchy. Do we want that once again, or something similar to that? Many people incorrectly see the “free world of the West” on one side of the equation, and Islamic fundamentalism on the other side. But that is not the case. These are players at different levels of a global system of oppression and exploitation which the imperialist powers are at the head of, and they dictate the terms and conditions that keep this global order spinning. The Islamic fundamentalists who rule Iran have “quarrels” with the imperialists who rule the U.S. But they are different parts of a single system that has oppressive and exploitative relationships with workers and toiling masses, with women, with intellectuals, with LGBTQ and with various ethnic nationalities in Iran.
Therefore, you cannot unite with one against the other, because that approach will end up benefiting both of them. Supporting one actually strengthens both, and neither one is a solution for our people, and the people of the Middle East. The choice between supporting one of these two forces has been imposed on the entire Middle East for decades, and we see its terrible consequences everywhere. The Islamic Republic is a theocratic capitalist state, not just a theocratic dictatorship. This reality necessitates a revolution for our society that will simultaneously destroy the theocratic form of the rule and its capitalist underpinnings, and this revolution can only be a communist revolution to establish a new socialist republic. Getting into “what is the problem and what is the solution” is vital for our society today, for tomorrow, and for the future of all societies, especially in a situation where the world is in the throes of great changes.
During my debate tour last summer that we called the “War of Alternatives,” I said that the world situation has placed not only Iran but all of humanity at a decisive crossroads. And I repeated [revolutionary leader] Bob Avakian's statement that we face “A Truly Terrible or a Truly Emancipating Future.”4 In other words, either humanity will suffer the intensifying disasters created by the functioning of the worldwide capitalist imperialist system, or it must prepare and bring about the destruction of this system through communist revolutions, in order to reorient human society towards a fundamentally different future.
The overthrow of the Islamic Republic is not only an objective necessity, but also an urgent requirement to chart a course toward the future. The present challenge in regard to the question of what alternative to choose is this: what must be changed so that not only the current problems are solved, but society can get onto a different road? How will this change be achieved? In the current situation, one of the most important methods is to differentiate ourselves from both old and new revolutionary programs, and to put forward the alternative of a real revolution and map out the coordinates and practices of the new socialist society. It is clear to us, the revolutionary communists, that if we are not bringing this forward, we are actually abandoning the field to right-wing alternatives, and the restoration of the bourgeois dictatorial state in another form.
The character, principles and the practices of this alternative are carefully laid out by the Communist Party of Iran (MLM) in its draft “Constitution of the New Socialist Republic of Iran.” This “constitution” is based on universal principles formulated by Bob Avakian, for the society that will be established after the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.5
One of the important lines of demarcation in the alternative we put forward is regarding the issue of human rights. Most people who speak about “human rights” are referring to the “rights” enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948, and other such declarations. But as Bob Avakian has correctly noted, “within the current power relations obtaining in the world, there is no real way to ‘enforce’ these rights—and, in a more basic sense, there is no real way to ‘effect’ these rights within the confines of a capitalist-imperialist world economy and political system.”6 The intellectual and physical capabilities of billions of people who produce the wealth in this world is crushed and destroyed by the daily workings of the capitalist system.
When people rise up against this situation, branding irons, bayonets, imprisonment and torture await them. The challenge before us is to create a society that will break down these barriers and establish a government whose responsibility and existential necessity is to pave the way for the realization of the “four alls” (ending all class distinctions, all production relations that create such distinctions, all oppressive social relations that arises from those social distinctions and oppressive relations, and all the ways of thinking the flow from those social distinctions and oppressive relations), and to secure the freedom for the oppressed to put these “four alls” into practice, while at the same time, ensuring the freedom of critical thinking and dissent in society—even when they are in opposition to the principles of such a society.
Dear Narges! War, terrorism and fundamentalism are not the result of a lack of the attributes of the Middle East’s “very rich historical civilizations.” The war-torn and fundamentalist Middle East was produced by the working of the capitalist system that rules the world. And the character of the future we need must be qualitatively different from any kind of “historical civilization.” Yes, all of us in Iran, in the Middle East, and in the world, are suffering from a very dangerous “lack.” The lack of taking up the potential of the available revolutionary theory needed to lead new waves of revolution. Your work and the work of your noble comrades are very important to building those waves of revolution.
Within the opposition to the Islamic Republic, there are various political forces whose social outlooks and interests conflict irreconcilably with each other. But there are also various trends whose perspectives are close to each other. Such differences are very natural, because life is full of necessity. When tackling necessity in order to change it, human beings will always have varying opinions about how to assess those necessities and how to change them. These differences can and must become the source of the flowering of a rich intellectual life, and of practical unity. When we outline clearer alternatives for a truly better society and world, we will be able to open our arms wider for broader alliances.
As the contradictions within society and the world intensify, the various hues of “we” will come closer together. That’s great, and it is the essence of a human response to unbearable disasters. But, starting today, we must grapple with the differences in the viewpoints and programs of those in opposition to the Islamic Republic, so that we can become more aware of demarcating programs that can only lead from catastrophe to catastrophe, [from that which] unites our alliances that are aiming for a totally different future. Only then can we together, by relying on each other's knowledge and art, victoriously sail this storm-tossed ship amid rocks and turbulences, and aim our fists as one toward the ramparts of the tower of oppression.