Whose constituent assembly?

As the stalemate between the Islamic Republic and the mass opposition movement continues, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, one of the leaders of the 2009 Green movement, has called for a constituent assembly. Yassamine Mather has translated this excerpt from an article by Torab Saleth which deals with the constituent assembly from a leftwing point of view

According to Mir-Hossein Mousavi, under house arrest since 2011, a new constitution should be introduced in a “free and fair” referendum. Towards that end he proposes a “constituent assembly”. But he wants to save the regime from what he calls the “crisis of crises” and re-establish some sort of popular legitimacy.

This is a new position for Mousavi, who was a staunch supporter of the existing constitution when hundreds of thousands of Iranians were protesting in 2009 after the rigged presidential elections. As always with him, it is too little, too late. Although he does not clarify how exactly his constituent assembly should be convened, one assumes it would rely on the existing state to oversee the whole operation and any subsequent referendum. In other words, he is proposing a counterrevolutionary constituent assembly and a new counterrevolutionary constitution.

For the left, of course, the call for a constituent assembly is a completely different matter. We want a constituent assembly and a new constitution brought about by the revolutionary overthrow of the Islamic Republic and overseen by a revolutionary government.

What follows is a translation of a comment by Torab Saleth as part of a much longer article originally published in the journal Socialism and Revolution.1



Our first slogan should not necessarily be ‘All power to the councils’ (shoras). This clearly depends on what we mean by ‘councils’ or which organisations we are referring to.

Naturally, this slogan is meaningful only when the revolutionary crisis has led to the formation of self-organising bodies of the masses that can exercise political power. If what is meant by ‘councils’ is what the anarcho-syndicalists and even many of our Marxists preach today - that is, the councils of production units (which are actually nothing more than factory committees) - then how can hundreds of thousands of factory committees take political power - in practice, not on paper, and not just as a nice slogan?

For example, if the reactionary army is advancing to the centre from one of the regions, how will these committees be able to organise against it? Basically, how can they resist? These same questions were raised in the German Revolution of 1918-19. Instead of the dominant form of city councils in the Russian Revolution (where the representatives of these councils were directly elected by the workers), in Germany the ‘councils’ were mainly limited to these factory committees.


To become organs of the workers, they first sent their representatives to regional meetings, which then elected city committees, and the provincial council of representatives was elected from among these; this was supposed to exercise power. In other words, even before the national councils could claim power, they went through three stages of elections, and the final representatives did not have the slightest direct relationship with the primary voters. Does power in the hands of the councils mean, for example, this three-stage system of representation? That is more undemocratic than bourgeois parliaments!

During the Spanish civil war, most of the large regional organisations were actually peasant councils, so that workers’ councils were mainly reduced to factory committees. In such circumstances, what would we mean by ‘All power in the hands of councils’? That is why our call to establish a socialist government is not the same as calling for council power, a council government or council administration. By themselves, these are meaningless and dumb words that open the way for any non-socialist and anti-worker interpretation. For example, have you noted the fact that some people on the Iranian left who come up with such slogans do not even believe that the revolution should be socialist? When used in this way, when they do not imply any transition to socialism, slogans such as ‘Soviet republic’ or ‘Soviet rule’ can only benefit capitalism and the capitalists.

In a revolutionary society, mass, self-governing institutions will not be limited to councils (whatever we mean by them). Apart from the form of the council itself, which can be very diverse, there will be many other forms of self-organisation of the masses. What will be their share of political power? Therefore, our slogan must be for a socialist republic - all government positions must be elected and their current occupants removed from power, and the goal must be the transition to socialism. Therefore, the most successful proletarian revolution also needs to demand a constituent assembly. The answer to such questions should be left to that constituent assembly, which drafts the constitution of the transitional period and defines the limits of each institution’s power.


Therefore, the call for a constituent assembly is neither a phased request nor a tactical one, but is considered one of the important tasks of the future revolution. In addition, since the crisis of world socialism is actually a crisis of credibility, which originates from the historical experiences of the governments claiming socialism and communism in Russia or China, I think the most important issue in our socialist programme should be a clear explanation of how we will witness the transition from the regime of the Islamic Republic to a revolutionary government.

It is said that the call for a constituent assembly is a bourgeois demand. This is incorrect. In my opinion, this demand is the flagship of all democratic demands: ie, the right of the people to rule. The right of sovereignty is applied when the people can choose the form of government that is supposed to make this sovereignty possible. None of the democratic demands are necessarily bourgeois: in many bourgeois revolutions, the main struggle for democratic demands was fought by the lower classes and not by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie defends the sovereignty of the people in words, but in many countries, even until the middle of the 20th century, it was still against the right of women to vote.

In addition to that, just as we have many types of councils, we have different interpretations of the constituent assembly. The constituent assembly that the bourgeoisie calls for is different from what the masses need and we defend. We also know that the democratic tasks of the Iranian revolution have not yet been achieved, and we have not even experienced the bourgeois form of the constituent assembly - that is why this demand can be popular among the masses even in its bourgeois form. And, precisely for this reason, the bourgeois opposition may at least verbally defend this demand in order to incite the masses. That is why the camp of labour should not desert calls for the realisation of the sovereignty of the people and leave it to bourgeois fraudsters.

The camp of labour must also defend all democratic demands and show that it is not only fighting for all these rights, but for their actual realisation, not just for bourgeois formal solutions. In addition, we must show that we not only do not shy away from the implementation of the maximum democratic rights, but that the transition to socialism will be impossible without those rights. The battle for socialism is nothing but the battle for the expansion of the democratic rights of the masses - in fact Marx considered the dictatorship of the proletariat to be a “victory in the battle for democracy”.

The establishment of a bourgeois constituent assembly (maybe except for the experience of the French Revolution and the important role of the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie) is usually carried out by a bourgeois movement that has taken over the levers of power and calls such an assembly to approve its rule. It is just a formal device. In addition, such bourgeois constituent assemblies are nothing but a version of bourgeois parliaments, based on the selection of representatives from particular geographical areas. Aside from the formal and limited democracy that defines the basis for the formation of such an assembly, this type of election cannot really represent the direct interests and demands of the masses. Here, the people are only defined by their geographical identity and have no political, gender, ideological, national or professional identity.

Right now, that part of the bourgeois opposition (for example, constitutionalists) who support this demand say it has to be postponed until after holding a referendum on the form of government - just like the counterrevolution of the mullahs, who first claimed that the masses had chosen an Islamic government based on a formal referendum, and then deprived the people of their sovereignty and instructed the parliament to approve the concept of velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the imbecile!). The revolutionary assembly which we call for does not recognise any authority above itself and relies on the self-governing institutions of the masses that emerged from the revolutionary crisis.

In a revolutionary democratic constituent assembly, there will be representatives of the districts, as well as representatives of professions and their institutions, plus representatives of political parties. In simple words, each person has at least three representatives. And the votes should be proportional and the right of any minority that has a certain percentage of the popular vote should not be trampled upon. In addition, all the representatives must be able to be dismissed by the voters. Such an assembly can only be formed after a mass revolution and the overthrow of the existing regime. If the revolutionary crisis leads to the formation of such institutions, we will see the self-government of the masses and the creation of a state based on their power.

If - during the revolutionary crisis that leads to the overthrow of the regime - the socialists do not have significant influence among the working class and the mass, self-governing institutions, to such an extent that they cannot gain a majority in such assemblies, then they really will not have the power to preserve it by force either. This fact only demonstrates that socialists would still have to continue the struggle. The social revolution is still in its early stages and the struggle to overthrow the ruling class and go beyond a purely democratic revolution to a socialist one is something we must continue to fight for.

Necessary link

The formation of a constituent assembly will provide the best centre for the continuation of such a struggle. It is the best way to enforce the right of the people to rule, and the only way to guarantee that right in the long run is through socialism. Therefore, the constituent assembly provides the link between the beginning and the end of the continuous revolution in Iran. The important thing to keep in mind here is that, with the overthrow of the current regime, the class struggle will not end, nor will the political revolution necessarily be completed.

In such a situation, the struggle for the removal of representatives who do not represent the wishes of the masses will become one of the important tasks of the class struggle. In addition, the other possibilities that I mentioned above should also be taken into account: that is, at the peak of the revolutionary crisis period, a new regime could well be formed through manoeuvrings at the top, which will refuse to form a democratic constituent assembly - or any assembly that could genuinely legitimise its power. Certainly, when the progressive opposition to the regime is so dire, and there is no genuine dual power, the probability of such an outcome will be much higher.

The struggle of the masses against any type of government created from above will actually become the main axis of the struggle. What better wish than the wish to form a democratic and revolutionary constituent assembly relying on organs of mass self-organisation and able to unite the masses against the imposed regime? In such a case, the struggle for this demand will become a powerful motivation for the construction and expansion of mass, self-governing institutions.

  1. revolutionary-socialism.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/rs-ts-khizesh-1401.pdf.↩︎