By Yasmine Mather
Elections held in Iran in late June came at a time of unprecedented developments in the region. As far as the Middle East is concerned, Iran is in a very strong position, mainly thanks to the military interventions of its long term “foes”, the United States and Britain.
It is a situation that has allowed the Islamic Republic to overcome some of its internal problems.
To the East, the Taliban regime (with whom it nearly went to war in the late 1990s) is defeated, and many of Iran’s allies are back in power as regional warlords, such as the governor of Herat province in western Afghanistan under the pro-Iran warlord Haji Ismail Khan.
However Iran’s main international success has been achieved in Iraq. Without firing a single shot, they have seen not only the removal of Saddam’s secular Ba’thist regime — a neighbour they hated more than Israel and the US — but the coming to power of their protégés, the Shi’a parties and militias of “Islamic Daawa” (the Iraqi occupation Prime Minister’s party) and other major parties in the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), sharing power with the Kurdish PUK and KDP. These are organisations well known for getting military, financial and political support from Iran since the 1980s.
Whether by intention or incompetence, the current US administration and its bloody wars in the region have given Iran’s clerical rulers a new lease of life and unprecedented authority in the Middle East. This, together with chaos created by military occupation in Iraq is part of the reason why these medieval reactionaries in Iran have been able to remain in power.
Internally the regime couldn’t be doing worse. Workers protest daily against non-payment of wages, privatisation, lack of job security, absence of any independent labour organisations. Students and youth complain about lack of democracy, interference of religion in their private lives. Yet most Iranians reject the “colonial” imposition of Bush style “democracy” as they look in horror at chaos in Iraq. Opponents and supporters of the regime are united in their hatred of George Bush, and every time the US president comments on Iran — such as on the eve of the first round of the Iranian presidential elections — it backfires.
All polls indicate overwhelming support for the development of nuclear energy and even nuclear weapons as a deterrent against foreign aggression.
Four years ago it would have taken a miracle to save the Islamic regime in Iran, but the idiots in charge of US foreign policy have created conditions where Shi’a Islam has not only maintained political power in Iran but has also gained unprecedented influence in the region.
Militant Sunni Islam is presenting itself as the only force capable and determined to defeat US aggression. Both by choosing its allies and selecting its enemies, the US administration has succeeded in paving the way for the revival of political Islam, a phenomenon that had been tarnished by 26 years of Shi’a rule in Iran.
That is why, at a time when the “project to reform” the Islamic regime was truly dead and buried, in this election, the clerics ruling Iran had the audacity to take calculated risks in pursuit of their factional interests.
Of the six candidates that survived the scrutiny of the arch reactionary “Council of Guardians”, five candidates, Rafsanjani, Kahroubi, Moin, Ghalibaf, and Larijani (first three from the reformist faction, the last two from the hard line conservative faction) presented themselves as “modern”, “pro democracy”, supporters of women’s rights. The election broadcasts of these candidates were full of images of “modernity”, addressing mainly the middle classes, the youth and the women’s movement.
Rafsanjani’s campaign, which must have cost millions of dollars, was full of images of this 70 year old former conservative speaking to “poorly veiled”, well made up young women whose highlighted hair was showing from under small head scarves. A vision that would have been considered “an insult to Islam” even a couple of years ago.
However with an extensive boycott of the election by women and youth, it was only the middle classes and the rich who chose “reformist” candidates in two rounds of elections. Thanks to the miraculous appearance of ballot boxes filled by Bassij (the militia associated with Ahmadinejad) in the first round, as well as the acceptance by sections of the poor of Ahmadinejad’s promises of “redistribution of wealth” and “fighting corruption”, an unknown conservative gained power.
Apart from the ballot rigging and “divine” interference by the supreme clerical leader, ayatollah Khamenei, it is clear that in the second round of elections, in choosing between a fascist and a crook, many poor, working class Iranians were fooled by the fascist.
Large numbers of workers who have not received any salaries and millions of unemployed workers made redundant through mass privatisation (a policy demanded by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in return for billions of dollars of loans) are among the regime’s most determined opponents, but some within their ranks were fooled by Ahmadinejad. Within the Islamic regime most of the battles of the last decade have been about the religious state’s inability to deal with the current world economic order and those who still believe in the rule of sharia. However the majority within both factions of the regime have decided that the only way the regime can survive is if it establishes the rule of law in a free-market capitalist state. Khatami’s presidency coincided with unfettered privatisation. As far as the economy is concerned Ahmadinejad has indicated no change in this strategy,
His claims to favour Iranian companies when awarding oil contracts, and talk of removing what he calls “ambiguities and a lack of transparency in the oil industry”, are already challenged by Khamenei’s interference in defence of Rafsanjani’s financial integrity. This drive against corruption and for Iranification is supposed to go hand in hand with wealth redistribution. Yet, as Iranians told foreign reporters throughout this election, the Iranian rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
The Iranian capitalists invited by Ahmadinejad to invest have no intention of changing the economic status quo, and the clergy’s own vested interests in the “ambiguities” of the oil industry make a mockery of his claims — the main beneficiaries of the daylight robbery taking place in oil are Shi’a mullahs and their close relatives, known as aghazadeh ha (sons of clerics).
The majority of Iranian workers have paid little attention to the two rounds of the presidential elections. Many have been taking action to further their own, more pressing interests. Last week over 1,000 workers from the copper company, Bahonar, staged a hunger strike in Mashad in protest at management attitudes towards the workforce. They were amongst many complaining about working conditions.
This week the strike by workers at the diesel section of the Iran Khodro vehicle manufacturers has paralysed one of the country’s largest industrial complexes. Another 80 workers demonstrated against contract work outside the council building in Neyshabour. These protests made up only a tiny proportion of the total number of working class struggles over the last two weeks.
In addition to the regional situation, it should be noted that the incompetence and treachery of the Iranian opposition has also helped the survival of the regime. Large sections of the opposition are silenced or tainted by their “foreign backers”. The Kurdish Democratic Party, Mojahedin, and even the mass based Kurdish Komaleh are now part of the US State Department’s plans for “regime change in Iran”, with offices and lobby groups more effective in Washington and US occupied Iraq than Tehran. Others such as the Communist Party of Iran (Komaleh 2+, a split with Worker Communist Party of Iran), fearful of their future in Iraqi Kurdistan, don’t dare criticise the occupation regime in Iraq, losing support in Iran. The Fedayeen Majority (who supported Khomeini during the worst years of repression), assorted bourgeois liberal republicans and even sections of Royalists are in a loose alliance calling for a referendum on the Constitution.
Most of these groups choose to forget that many of Iran’s social and economic problems have more to do with the capitalist nature of the Iranian state in the current world order than its Islamic characteristics. These problems cannot be simply resolved with political change from above.
Irrespective of what follows, it is the responsibility of the left to use the experience of Iran’s Islamic government to expose the failings of capitalism under the guise of political Islam — both in the economic-social sphere (poverty, corruption, etc) and in the international arena (i.e., anti-Western rhetoric instead of genuine anti-imperialism). However the left inside and outside Iran will pay heavily if it ignores the most important source of poverty, dictatorship and violence in the region — a military invasion by a super power in defence of world capitalist order.
Inside Iran we need to link anti-capitalist campaigns against unemployment, non-payment of salaries and destitution with daily struggles for freedom and democracy. It is essential to show that Iran’s social, economic and political ills are interlinked, and that many of these problems are the inevitable consequences of the neoliberalism and the “new world order”.
This would also defeat Bush’s project of regime change (through a referendum) as it exposes the US’s “democratic” alternative, something which will only bring more misery and more poverty for millions of Iranians