Confident beginning

Hands Off the People of Iran had its official launch in Covent Garden following the February 24 anti-war demonstration. Anne Mc Shane reports

A small but packed meeting heard Mark Fischer of the CPGB describe the initiative as a vital one, given that the Stop the War Coalition refuses to do more than organise pacifist marches against imperialist aggression. Indeed Andrew Murray and Lindsey German had that afternoon once again fobbed the movement off with plans for yet another march - this time when there is an attack on Iran. Comrade Fischer argued: "Something of far more depth is required to counteract the threat of war and build the movement."

Speaking on behalf of Communist Students, Ben Lewis reported recent contacts made with the student movement in Iran. Students in Tehran have shown tremendous defiance and courage in recent struggles and are continuing their activity despite a severe clampdown by the state. In their militancy they are increasingly turning to Marxist ideas and are very keen to make contact with comrades internationally. Joint actions are planned for International Women's Day on March 8.

Comrade Torab from the Iranian group, Workers Left Unity, then spoke and stressed the need to oppose both imperialism and the "reactionary anti-imperialism of Ahmadinejad". He argued that the islamic state cannot be reformed, despite claims made by apologists for the regime - "every time a reform movement begins it immediately runs into trouble because it threatens the very existence of the shia state leadership". The state is unable to absorb any democratic movement. Therefore it constantly turns to savage oppression.

However, dissent continues to well up: "There have been more than 17 mass strikes in the last two months." The working class movement is fighting the regime. They are taking it on politically. Given the chance, both the US and Ahmadinejad will crush that movement. They are two sides of the same coin. No illusions should be had in either.

Peter Tatchell of Outrage and the Green Party spoke of the problem of what he termed "negative oppositionism". Nothing positive or constructive had been put forward by any of the speakers at the Trafalgar Square rally that day. In particular there had been "no call for international solidarity with the Iranian people." The left is in a rut and the "Stop the War Coalition is about to make the same mistake with Iran as it did with Iraq".

He argued that it was vital to make links with minority nationalities in Iran, like the Ahwazi people who are struggling against ethnic cleansing. Their repression has intensified since they took up arms against the state in 2005. Since then "over 25,000 Ahwazi Arabs have been arrested, over 160 have been killed by security forces firing on peaceful demonstrations, scores have "disappeared and dozens have been sentenced to death" (see www.ahwaz.org.uk). Such is the vicious and violent nature of the islamic state - there can be no illusions in its reformability.

Unfortunately the SWP-backed Campaign Iran tries to create just such illusions. Even more, it effectively acts as an apologist for the islamic republic. One Iranian comrade reports on the links between the Iranian embassy and the campaign. Meetings have been held in rooms owned by embassy-backed islamic organisations. And a cursory glance at Campaign Iran's propaganda can leave you in no doubt as to its determination to defend Ahmadinejad. A postcard handed out to demonstrators that day claimed: "There is no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons or supplying arms to insurgents in Iraq." This is just one of a number of equally baseless arguments contained in the campaign's recent report entitled 'Answering the charges' available at www.campaigniran.org. The report is little more than an apologia for the islamic state.

Contributions from the floor stressed the importance of mounting a bold campaign. Speakers from the British Ahwazi Friendship Society explained their struggle and called for support.

Azar, an Iranian comrade, stressed that Hands Off the People of Iran "is an important development. We should not underestimate it. We can go beyond Britain and can have a major impact. The radical movement in Iran needs this support."

The point was raised that support for national minority rights in Iran should be included in the statement. One comrade also wanted the islamic state to be described as fascist rather than a republic. This and other issues will form part of the ongoing debate in the democratic and principled campaign we plan to build. It was a modest, but confident beginning.

It was agreed that meetings should now take place throughout Britain in order to set up the campaign on a firmer basis nationally.