Oppose the clerical regime too
Reply to open letter from Hands Off the People of Iran.
Dear signatories, Hands Off the People of Iran welcomes any intervention that opposes the threat of war against Iran and we agree with you that the most recent severe sanctions imposed by the Trump administration has caused unprecedented suffering for the people of Iran.
However, your letter fails to give a full picture of the current situation in the country, where tens of thousands of protestors have been on the streets complaining about economic hardship, corruption and cronyism - only to face the most brutal forms of repression. At least 200 demonstrators have lost their lives, while thousands have been injured, yet the protests continue. It is certainly true that the abolition of fuel subsidies encouraged by the IMF sparked off this latest wave of protests. However, your letter implies that Iran’s relations with the IMF started only in 2018 and that, between them, the US administration and the institutions of neoliberal capital are the only culprits in causing the current devastating economic situation in Iran.
This is not correct. Leaders of Iran’s Islamic Republic espoused neoliberal capitalism as early as 1988. Immediately after the end of the Iran-Iraq war the government declared its intention to privatise most industries and to liberalise and decentralise the economy. In 2004 the country’s supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, revised and dismissed important sections of article 44 of the constitution, which had stipulated that all large-scale industries, communication and major financial companies, as well as essential services such as the rail network, should be publicly owned and administered by the state.
The following quotation from a report by the World Bank is a reasonable summary of the country’s contemporary economic outlook: “Iranian authorities have adopted a comprehensive strategy encompassing market-based reforms, as reflected in the government’s 20-year vision document and the sixth five-year development plan for the 2016-21 period.”1 Khamenei has on a number of occasions admitted that, almost 41 years after coming to power, the Islamic Republic has failed to deal with the gap between rich and poor. The reality is that one needs to go further: the gap has widened considerably since 1979.
In such circumstances how can those claiming to support the Iranian people ignore the internal policies that have led to this catastrophic situation? How can they ignore the daily struggles of Iran’s workers against the religious state’s capitalist policies? How can they ignore the systematic non-payment of wages - which has become part and parcel of the government’s conscious policy of weakening the working class in pursuit of further privatisation? The political factions of Iran’s Islamic regime have been competing with each other over the implementation of a global neoliberal agenda - let us not forget that it was former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - the darling of the conservative factions and the man who claimed to represent the poor and the disinherited - whose government was applauded by the International Monetary Fund as a model when it came to the implementation of restructuring.
Of course, the Islamic Republic of Iran never claimed to pursue socialist policies, but the new order, established following a popular revolution, was supposed to bring economic benefits to the ‘poor and the disinherited’. The reality was quite the opposite.
In explaining the current economic disaster in Iran, bourgeois economists are quick to point to the rentier nature of the economy - the reliance on oil, the role of the Revolutionary Guards in controlling the black market … However, what they fail to point out is that this was made possible and compounded by the underlying nature of Iran’s economic policies: unfettered neoliberal capitalism. Expensive cars owned by the rich are not a major contributor to the ‘psychological insecurity’ of the population: low wages, job insecurity, systematic non-payment of wages, spiralling prices, food shortages, lack of basic medication are. Iran’s super-rich, the one percent, are getting richer by the minute, because they thrive on neoliberal economic policies, implemented with the help of the state’s military and security forces. The old bourgeoisie keeps referring to this stratum as the nouveaux riches, amidst complaints about their greed, corruption and pitiless exploitation. But the reality is that all sections of the capitalist class benefited from and relied on government ‘restructuring’ policies to sack workers and re-employ them under temporary contracts. Successive administrations watered down the post-revolution labour legislation in favour of the factory owners. ‘White contracts’, where the worker signs a blank sheet of paper and the employer fills in the contract details, are now the norm.
All this has contributed to a massive gap between rich and poor. The Maseratis driven by sons of ayatollahs cost around half a million dollars - the equivalent of the monthly salaries of 2,500 industrial workers or 2,000 teachers.
As elsewhere under neoliberal capitalism, there is no ‘trickle-down effect’. While clerics and their closest civilian and military supporters have made billions from sanction-busting and the black market, ordinary Iranians have faced hunger, abject poverty and death due to shortage of medicines and surgical equipment. No doubt the display of grotesque wealth by the offspring of ayatollahs is adding insult to injury.
Yet your letter fails to criticise any aspect of the policies of the Iranian regime. On the contrary, you imply the fault lies only with “native informants and cheerleaders, who serve as functionaries of US imperialism”.
As the demonstrators of the last few weeks and the student protesters of December 7 2019 in Iranian universities have rightly pointed out, one can be against war and against sanctions, but also oppose the rule of neoliberal capital so dear to all factions of the Islamic Republic. Of course, US imperialism and its allies are intent on regime change from above and are seriously considering options to impose this - sanctions, diplomatic pressure, limited strikes or perhaps bombing the country back to the Stone Age. That is why the main enemy is imperialism. However, anti-imperialists must also condemn the Islamic government’s cynical use of external threats to justify increased internal repression. In the last few weeks the government’s security apparatus has been unleashed on workers and the poor who are participating in protests and demonstrations. Anti-imperialists must be in the forefront of defending these struggles against both the internal and the external enemy.
Unless we do so, we pave the way for all manner of reactionaries trying to divert these just struggles towards their aim of US-funded regime change from above.