Don't mention the regime

The June 12 'open organising meeting' of Action Iran quickly focused on one question - should it take up a position on the nature of the Iranian regime or simply remain a 'single-issue campaign'? Tina Becker reports

This gathering was organised as a follow-up to the June 2 public meeting with human rights lawyer and Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi in order to 'mop up' new layers of supporters drawn to the campaign. As it turned out, members of the CPGB seemed to have been the only new force at the small meeting, which was dominated by members of the Socialist Workers Party - although nobody said so, instead preferring to speak merely as Action Iran (AI), Respect or Stop the War Coalition. There was a fair number of Iranian women present - some of them involved in this or that group, others independent - but most seemed to have been to AI meetings before.

Despite the obvious failure to attract new faces, the event went ahead as planned - ie, not so much as an organising meeting, but as a mini-rally. STWC chair Andrew Murray (who never seems to openly admit to being a member of the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain) took more than 20 minutes to explain why we should be opposed to an attack on Iran. Not much controversy or indeed enlightenment there.

It only got interesting when he felt the need to talk about "our position" on the Iranian regime: "We in the Stop the War Coalition are clear about this. The Iranian regime is a matter for the Iranian people only." His main argument on this question was that the US has no right to simply substitute one regime with another one. Fair enough.

But it became clear that he also objected to the British left making any judgement on the matter. It was "different for Iranians - they should openly say what they think". Therefore Action Iran (clearly simply an add-on to the STWC) "needs to attract a lot of Iranians from all walks of life". Apparently, only if you are born in the country do you have the right to criticise its regime. Maybe those with one parent from Iran can half-criticise the crushing of the democratic and workers' movement or the slaughter of opponents. The left in Britain certainly cannot.

When I challenged this inverted nationalism and argued in favour of genuine internationalism (which naturally must include our active support for the struggles of the Iranian working class, women's movement and the democratic opposition to the islamic regime), comrade Murray elaborated further. Apparently, if we openly criticise the Iranian regime - for example, when it brutally attacks our brothers and sisters on demonstrations and picket lines - we are providing the US hawks with ammunition. We are just "fuelling the danger of war if we start listing what's wrong with the regime", according to comrade Murray.

In reality, such 'tactics' do nothing but disarm our own movement - as well as deprive the growing opposition in Iran of our active solidarity. Other AI speakers tried to rescue the situation by saying that our "support for the democracy movement is implicit" in the group's mission statement. There, it states that an attack on Iran would set back the democracy movement. And that in turn "implies" that we are "no fans of the regime", as one comrade (not a member of the SWP) put it.

Well, how about saying so openly if we are implying it anyway? Because we "want to be broad", as speaker after speaker said. "The success of the Stop the War Coalition has proved that this must be a single-issue campaign," said comrade Murray. In fact, the STWC - as well as Action Iran - are extremely narrow in one sense. The STWC only mobilises for demonstrations and is unwilling to form an effective political movement that really could stop a war.

Action Iran is a even narrower and smaller. The only organised trends within it are the SWP and the CPB. Apart from a few exceptions, the Iranian exile community is staying well clear of the campaign. And who can blame them? Many of them have fled precisely from the kind of regime that the AI now wants to keep shtoom about.

When a comrade suggested that an AI conference in the autumn should "maybe feature a debate on the regime so that we can clear the air", Andrew Murray cut her short: "And then we immediately have a split in the movement." Because, you see, "there might be business people there who do not want to criticise the regime". He was in favour of a conference, yes, but "a conference that does not discuss the future of Iran", although obviously the gathering "should not look like it is run by the Iranian regime".

At least this showed that he half-recognised that the logic of this dire 'non-interference' position leads precisely into the camp of reaction.