Against war, for democracy

Comrade Jamshid from the Committee to Defend the Iranian People's Rights spoke to Anne Mc Shane about his organisation and the role of the anti-war movement

When you spoke at the conference you argued that we need to fight both against an attack on Iran and also for solidarity with the Iranian people in their fight for democracy against the regime. Tell me more about your organisation and how it fights for these aims.

CODIR was established in the early 1980s after the 1979 revolution. It was set up specifically to provide truthful information about the realities of life in Iran and because there were concerns about the direction and policies of the religious forces that had taken over the control of the state after the revolution.

These forces were not interested in the development of the revolution beyond the very first stage of getting rid of the shah's regime. In addition, they were displaying serious and disturbing anti-democratic tendencies. The main slogans of the 1979 revolution were for democracy, human rights and social justice. But those controlling the regime were not demonstrating any interest in human and democratic rights. The forces favouring an outdated type of capitalism were gaining control of the regime.

We fight for increased democratisation in Iran and for progressive policies there. We have worked hard to expose the reactionary nature of the regime ruling Iran and have argued against the idea that the current regime has any kind of progressive potential. In fact the regime in Iran favours conflicts, tension and crises. It provokes crises and uses them to its own advantage - to extend its oppressive practices and to control society.

Any war would be in their interest, as it would calm the contradictions and threats from below. The regime exploits the situation and argues that because of the external threats no dissent can be allowed. We are against the threats of war and economic sanctions against Iran, but we are also against the provocative and reactionary positions taken by the theocratic regime.

In the past, CODIR campaigned against the Iran-Iraq war, as this was not in the interests of the people of either country. We struggled against this war and continued our campaign until its end, in July 1988.

We have secured the support of significant sections of the trade union and labour movement in Britain and many back our positions. A number of national trade unions, including Unison and Usdaw, the Scottish TUC and scores of trades councils have affiliated, and nearly 50 MPs and a number of MEPs are supporters.

You said in the conference that you are a socialist. Is your organisation linked to a political party in Iran?

As a solidarity organisation it is not our task to endorse any political party inside or outside Iran. A lot of CODIR members are British. The kind of campaign we have developed has been based on the Labour Party, progressives, democrats, left organisations and trade unions. There are some Labour Party members who support CODIR's activities, as there are some greens and Plaid Cymru members in Wales. Some are socialists and many are trade unionists.

The Communist Party of Britain supports CODIR. But we are not a party political organisation. We are only united for the campaign for democracy and human rights in Iran. Members and supporters of the Tudeh Party of Iran have supported our campaigns, as have supporters of a number of other Iranian parties. And there are those in CODIR that are not members of any political party either in the UK or in Iran.

What are your views on Action Iran?

I only heard of this organisation in the last three or four months since January- February. I am not very impressed by them. I heard Elaheh Rostami-Povey speaking in Trafalgar Square on March 18 and here at the conference. She has failed to present the true situation in Iran and I believe that this can damage the peace movement.

It is a fundamental misrepresentation of the situation in Iran when she states that the distribution of wealth has improved. Millions of Iranian people are in a desperate economic situation, while a minority of super-rich are expanding their control over the economy.

The peace movement needs to know about the reactionary nature of the regime ruling, so it is not helpful when people such as Dilip Hiro present the Iranian regime as becoming more democratic. Especially now, when we have a dangerous character such as Ahmadinejad as the president and head of government.

It is very dangerous to argue that the Iranian regime has anything to do with democracy. This is a regime that has caused the deaths of many who struggled for peace and democracy, and has imprisoned many others.

In the last few months they have continued to attack the trade union, student and women's movements and those campaigning for democracy. Recently many intellectuals, writers and student activists have been arrested and locked up in prison by the regime just because they are struggling for democratic rights.

And so for Dilip Hiro to come here and say that just because there were seven candidates allowed to stand in the presidential elections last year the regime ruling Iran is democratic! This just serves to confuse and deceive people about its nature. This regime precipitated the current crisis and is exploiting the situation to prolong its rule. I do not know why or for what reasons Action Iran presents it as progressive but, whatever the reason, it is very dangerous that it does so.

How has your organisation campaigned around these issues?

We have been involved in organising public meetings and briefing sessions, launching petitions and informing the labour movement about the true nature of the regime and its policies. CODIR publishes Iran Today, which explains the reality of life in the country. In recent years we have moved to campaigns that exploit the potential of the internet and emails. We have tried to get matters raised in parliament. CODIR had the support of a number of Labour MPs but since 1997 things have changed a lot. The election of the Labour government, rather than helping our campaign, has deprived us of the direct support of Labour MPs who during the 1980s and 1990s had openly campaigned with us for democracy in Iran. Some Labour MPs were quite active in supporting our campaigns and raising the issue of the oppressive nature of the regime in Iran before getting into government. But now they are careful not to be seen supporting a solidarity campaign.

It surely is possible to build a successful solidarity movement but I think Action Iran will destroy that possibility if left unchallenged.

I agree that there is a very real possibility of developing a mass movement against the threat of war with Iran and for solidarity with the Iranian people and for peace. But the main thing is to get the labour and trade union movement involved in supporting such a campaign, which needs to be broad-based.

The struggle in Iran by the university students, those aiming to establish independent trade unions and those fighting for women's rights is a powerful one. The labour and trade union movement in the UK should be assisted to understand, link with and support this powerful and developing movement in Iran. I think there are a lot of possibilities in this direction.

I am a communist and I believe that the working class should take up the struggle for democracy. While it is correct to put pressure on MPs, we need to have our own independent political programme. What is your view?

The difference is that, while what you say could be relevant and true for a communist, or a socialist involved in party politics, our campaign involves people who think in a variety of different ways. Some people do not support class politics and do not belong to any political party. And in a solidarity campaign we do need everyone who is prepared to do his/her bit to promote our aims. We simply fight for peace, democracy, human rights and social justice.

We have even approached the Liberal Democrats, as they say they support democracy. We don't have any illusions about the extent of their commitment to democracy, but it is not for us to bar them from showing solidarity with the people of Iran and supporting our campaign.

We make a broad appeal to all who support democracy and human rights in Iran. They should all be part of our campaign.

Contact CODIR

BM CODIR, London WC1N 3XX; codir_info@btinternet.com; www.codir.net.