The real anti-imperialists
Amir Javaheri and Mehdi Kia look at trends within the anti-war movement in Iran
Anyone under the illusion that the recent US national intelligence estimate report that Iran may have abandoned its nuclear programme in 2003 means an end to the threat of war against that country has not really understood the nature of US relations with the islamic regime.
The Islamic Republic of Iran does not fit in with the overall design of the USA for its ‘new world order’ in general, or for the Middle East in particular - whatever the complexion of the administration, or differences in the tactics between them. Total control over the Middle East is not something the power centres in the US can ignore. It is dictated by their proposed ‘solution’ to the crisis of global capital - the project to impose neoliberal economic policies on the world. The US elite needs to remove all political barriers to this project and bring the political and economic life of the planet under the total control of US corporations. A key priority is to conduct major surgery on the political structure of the world and to radically transform its command structure.
Today market mechanisms and economic levers alone are less than ever able to ensure the reproduction of capital. This world is unmanageable without the use of brute force to concentrate political power at the global level. Clausewitz’s dictum has therefore been turned on its head - politics becomes a continuation of war. When the power of IMF and World Bank alone is insufficient, naked force kicks in. This reality cannot be ignored by the management team of world capital - Republican or Democrat, conservative or ‘liberal’.
Seen in this light, the nuclear issue is only a pretext to undermine the islamic regime in Iran. A restructuring of the Middle East is central to US long-term plans. None of the candidates running for the US presidential election is averse to direct intervention in the region. Even Barack Obama commented after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination that, should islamists take over Pakistan, he would be in favour of direct US intervention.
The question is not the strategy itself, but the means of achieving it. The fact that a nuclear-armed Iran is no longer an immediate danger merely makes it more difficult to sell mass bombing to a battle-fatigued US public. A ‘velvet revolution’ à la Ukraine or Georgia is one option, as is the break-up of the country. The use of force, however, remains open.
An anti-war movement that is going to be effective must have a real assessment of the situation. It is clear to all but the blind (and opportunists) that the islamic regime (and we would go further and include the islamist movement as a generic whole) is structurally and fundamentally incapable of mounting a real challenge to imperialist aggression. Their suppression of any independent movement, their grip over society, their division of all social groups into muslims and others, their repression of women, the very fact that they stifle any free debate or association - all this deprives those societies of the very forces that can stand up to imperialist aggression. One needs only to look at Latin America to see that, wherever there are independent working class and social organisations and movements, and to the extent that these movements are given free reign to express themselves and effect policy, the imperialist hold on that country is weakened. That is the iron law of anti-imperialist struggle.
We must understand that the islamic regime in Iran on one side and the US and its allies on the other, whatever their real or perceived differences, are in one respect in a negative alliance. Both see war as a solution to their respective problems, just as both are wedded to pursuing neoliberal economic policies. Moreover, as argued above, the islamic regime in Iran is structurally incapable of mounting an effective resistance to imperialist aggressive designs for the region.
Clearly any anti-war movement will concentrate on the enemy that is closer at hand - one it can more easily target. The focus of the Iranian anti-war movement should thus be mainly on targeting the reactionary islamist regime, while the anti-war movement abroad would primarily target the US and its allies. There is an obvious logic to this tactic. But neither must forget the other component of the unwritten alliance for war, against real democracy and allegiance to the IMF.
The Iranian anti-war movement has the same divisions as we see in the anti-war movement abroad. One trend sees the US as a convenient means of overthrowing the islamic regime and for bringing ‘democracy’ to Iran - read setting itself up as a puppet regime. Obviously no-one inside Iran can easily and openly take this position, although views of this kind have been expressed by some of the delegates attending the ‘National Peace Council’ (see below). However, undoubtedly there is support for this view within the country. The fate of Iraq and Afghanistan has weakened it, but by no means killed it outright.
To this trend also belong those who in one way or another equate the islamic regime with the imperialists - for example, calling them both ‘terrorist states’. To equate US imperialism and its allies with the islamic regime in Iran is somewhat like equating the mafia with the neighbourhood thug. In the final analysis this plays into the hands of imperialist plans. There are also those within this tendency that, while condemning outright US military attacks on Iran, would welcome sanctions as a ‘soft’ option to remove the islamic regime. These people ignore one of the lesson of Iraq - that sanctions is war by different means.
The second trend consists of those that have overtly or covertly sided with the islamic regime. Under the threat of imperialist onslaught many Iranians have closed ranks and have lined up behind the government. Some are essentially organisations that are part of the regime - such as the Centre for Peace and the Environment, whose head, Masoumeh Ebtekar, was former vice-president to Khatami. This diverse group, however, also includes many who previously had made some oppositional noises against the regime from a variety of angles.
Among the groups that are essentially targeting US aggression while gently prodding the islamic regime to observe human rights is the National Peace Council, set up by Noble peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi has formed an Interim Peace Committee within which she hopes to have “renowned and reliable figures from different political groups and political tendencies” (www.worldpress.org/Mideast/3031.cfm). The trajectory of this committee is therefore quite clear, notwithstanding its slogan of ‘No to war, yes to peace, yes to human rights’. It is no secret that the only political groups and tendencies that can openly operate in Iran are in one way or another part of the regime.
Others have taken this same line from a nationalist perspective. They cite such issues as ‘loss of independence’, ‘national identity’ and ‘break-up of the country’, or even fear of a repetition of what they have seen happen in Iraq and Afghanistan as justification for siding with the islamic regime. They include a wide range of nationalist and chauvinist opinion, including ultra-nationalistic monarchists.
There is, however, a third trend which, while opposing the imperialist aggression unequivocally, also blames the islamic regime’s adventurous policies for the predicament of Iran. These want the workers’ and popular struggles against the regime to continue unabated - indeed to be redoubled. This trend is under the most severe pressure by the regime and many of its activists are in prison.
Some within this third tendency have taken a somewhat ambivalent attitude to the regime, such as the movement started by Nasser Zarafshan. The latter is a courageous lawyer who took on the military-security apparatus after the chain of murders of left intellectuals in the 1990s and paid for this by spending six years behind bars. Zarafshan has called on people to create a “third way”, but has defined this in such a manner that he has essentially called a truce with the regime while the threat of US attack is present. He has used the same arguments of loss of ‘national identity’ and ‘break-up of the country’ to advocate a halt in the struggles of workers, of women, of students and of national minorities, etc, for their basic rights. Under pressure from the left, Zarafshan has modified his views slightly, but presently remains on the fence when it comes to open opposition to the islamic regime. His position is unfortunate because his past record means that he enjoys a relatively good standing within the democratic movement inside Iran.
It should be pointed out that the islamic regime is using the excuse of the threat of hostilities to greatly increase its repression and to create an atmosphere of terror and fear. To openly oppose it is a dangerous act. The arrest of scores of labour leaders, tens of left and socialist students, women activists, people struggling for basic national rights as well as the exponential increase in executions (179 in the last three months - placing Iran top of the execution league) is evidence for this heightened repression. Fear of a resurgent left has also meant that the inner-regime reformists, and even some liberals who were opposed to the regime, have applauded the savage crackdown on socialist student groups.
Yet, despite the repression, open opposition to the regime is becoming more vocal. One of the banners at last year’s May Day celebrations read: “We reject nuclear energy, we reject the minimum wage ($180); we work to live, not live to work”. Last October a resolution by petrochemical workers in the oil city of Mahshahr protested at the political, economic and social conditions in Iran and condemned the warmongering policies of both sides. In December students protesting in the universities openly attacked the regime for its warmongering and defended the workers and social movements in Iran.
Among others who refuse to stop their attacks on the islamic regime is the prestigious Iranian Writers Committee and some women’s organisations. It is therefore possible to take a principled stance even under fire - Stop the War Coalition, please note. The lame excuse that under US and imperialist pressure Iranians should shelve their opposition to repressive regimes is clearly hollow - and indeed plays into the hands of imperialism.
Who can fight imperialist aggression?
The real third voice is one that understands that nothing will happen in Iran without the people actively on the scene. The real anti-imperialist force in the country is made up by its workers, organised in self-governing associations, and its people, organised in self-governing institutions and groupings. Without an active labour movement and a vibrant women’s, student and national movement all those who have designs on the country can get their way. This too is an iron rule.
Neither the US and its allies nor the mullahs and their allies have the interests of the Iranian people in mind. Both want to plunder the country. Both are wedded to neoliberal policies that are literally enslaving the majority working population. Both will do everything in their power to disenfranchise people, separate them from any decision-making and repress them. In that sense the military-clerical groups ruling Iran now and the US puppet regime waiting in the wings are also in an unwritten alliance.
Only a self-empowered working class movement in alliance with the women’s, student’s, nationalities’ and other social movements can stand up to both.