Organise for March 15

Hands Off the People of Iran focuses on campaigning in early 2008. Mark Fischer reports

A particularly sensible decision taken by the first gathering of the steering committee of Hands Off the People of Iran was to agree that its meetings would not be restricted by quorum rules.

This stipulation that nine committee members were required to be present for any decisions to be taken had originally been nodded through by a hastily convened huddle of the newly elected leadership in the immediate aftermath of the Hopi founding conference on December 8 last year. Clearly, this had been a mistake. Speaking against such a stipulation, I warned that it could potentially cripple the work of the campaign. Hopi had to highly flexible and quick to respond in the coming period.

This was underlined by the January 6 standoff in the Strait of Hormuz between three US vessels and Iranian speedboats, thought to be of the Revolutionary Guards. The details of the incident are still disputed, but really it is a secondary question whether the incident was a US provocation to coincide with Bush’s tour of the Middle East aimed at corralling various regimes behind his anti-Iran campaign; an Iranian-sponsored confrontation, organised either at the level of the state apparatus or as a ‘local’ initiative; or perhaps simple human error, badly misread intentions and some twitchy fingers on sweaty hair-triggers.

The key point is, as BBC online reported, “US sailors assumed battle stations and the captain on one of the ships was about to order an attack when the Iranian boats turned away, they said” (‘US doubts over Iran boat “threat”’, January 10 http://news.bbc.co.uk).

The general context of the extremely fraught relations between the US and Iran means that any such incident could easily tip over into armed conflict. Hopi must be able to respond quickly to crises like this, comrade Fischer stated, and not be “immobilised by its own rules”. Democratic accountability must be fought for through political transparency. Decisions taken and discussions had at every level of the organisation must be subject to scrutiny - and, where needed, criticism - of the organisation as a whole. “Better comrades make a mistake than do nothing at all,” he concluded.

The committee rejected a compromise proposal from Stuart King of Permanent Revolution to reduce the quorum to four and then agreed unanimously - including comrade King - to remove altogether the quorum restrictions on its work.

Much of the rest of the meeting was fairly uncontroversial and proceeded in a businesslike and comradely manner. Two formally separate items that made up a large part of the agenda - the concrete campaigning priorities agreed by the December conference, and forthcoming actions - merged into one in a wide-ranging discussion on the political context and format of Hopi’s work. As this discussion developed, the outlines of discrete areas of work emerged and individuals and groups of comrades responsible for organising the work were agreed. So, in addition to electing three Hopi officers - Yassamine Mather (secretary), Tami Peterson (treasurer), Mark Fischer (chair) - the committee also agreed comrades for the following areas of work - trade unions, women, students, Hopi branch organisation and web and e-bulletin editor.

It was a shame that nobody volunteered for the post of press officer, as we anticipate this being a fruitful area of Hopi work in the coming period. The officers will organise it between themselves for the time being, but it really needs a comrade to devote more detailed attention to it in the longer term.

It was also decided to produce a general Hopi recruitment leaflet, plus a more comprehensive brochure with articles on the current situation in Iran, the 1979 revolution, the nature of imperialism and the tasks of the anti-war movement.

Two dates were floated as important foci for Hopi’s work in the next few months.

First, the Stop the War Coalition’s World Against War demo on March 15. We are encouraging Hopi supporters to work hard to build this event and join us on the day to give our campaign a distinct political presence and make thousands of anti-war activists aware of Hopi’s principled political platform (see Hopi website for demo details and mobilising materials - www.hopoi.org).

Second, there was some disagreement around a proposal from the CPGB comrades on the committee for a Hopi weekend school over April 27-28. They suggested that this would take up in more depth some of the broader questions of theory and strategy that our founding conference only had time to touch on. These topics included the dynamics of the 1979 revolution and its aftermath, whether Iran has the ‘right’ to nuclear weapons and the contemporary nature of imperialism and its new forms of ‘humanitarian’ intervention.

PR’s Stuart King thought a weekend event was perhaps overly ambitious and was more in favour of a one-day meeting that had more of a practical focus on issues such as the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and an overview of the social position and struggles of women, workers and students in Iran.

However, the meeting decided that we should aim for a two-day event (especially as this would facilitate the participation of comrades from beyond the UK) that might feature discussions and briefings on different levels. Hopi supporters are being sounded out for their opinions and suggestions - watch our website for details.

Lastly, it is worthwhile outlining the debate on the remitted amendment to the founding statement of Hopi North West on Palestine. This proposed that we add to our bullet point the words, “… and support the heroic Palestinian struggle for self-determination and the right to return”.

The general consensus of the meeting was that - while there was sympathy and agreement in the room for the position - there was some ambiguity over the word “heroic” as this might imply support for Hamas and other such groups, and that the formulation did not really fit into a founding statement of a campaign focused on the threat of war with Iran. The steering group voted to reject the inclusion (seven against, one abstention). However, the idea was floated that the north west comrades could submit a motion on Palestine to the steering committee, perhaps committing us to support a particular demo or other action. Also, it was suggested that a debate on the question could be an important element of the April weekend school if it is agreed.

The next meetings of the steering committee take place on Saturday February 23 and Saturday March 29 in central London. Meetings are open to all Hopi members. Send an email to office@hopoi.org if you are interested in attending or if you have any suggestions for the agenda.