Tehran changes reflected in anti-war movement

Ben Lewis looks at the newly formed National Peace Council in Iran and warns against tailing such a supine political initiative

The latest political developments within Campaign Iran and the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (see opposite) appear to be a step forward, in that these groups are now at least prepared to criticise the theocratic regime headed by Mahmood Ahmadinejad.

It is evidently no longer beyond the pale for them to argue against the grotesque notion that the oppression of women and homosexuals is mitigated by the Iranian government’s progressive attitudes towards gender reassignment surgery and the promotion of world-class female racing drivers.

Yet, in the context of increased political pressure on Tehran to play ball with the ‘international community’ and the bellicose noises coming from Israel, the anti-war movement could flip from whitewashing the Ahmadinejad government into tailing ‘reformist’ forces seeking a peace deal with US imperialism.

Every day there is talk of an attack against Iran. Israeli F-16s and F-15s go on dry runs, and leading Israelis like cabinet minister Saul Mofaz say that a war is “unavoidable” unless Iran ends its nuclear programme. Iran has taken the opportunity to display its military and technological muscle by testing its Shahab 3 rockets. In this precarious situation, even the smallest of political incidents - whether in the Middle East or in the heartlands of imperialism - could trigger, or be exploited to provoke, a disastrous military adventure in the run-up to the US elections in November.

But there are problems for the US. Firstly, any attack on Iran would have negative consequences for its interests in other nearby countries - in Iraq, Afghanistan and potentially also in Lebanon. Iran would respond to an Israeli air strike by hitting back, not only with Shahab 3s. It would give the green light to its regional allies. Doubtless, this would be all that the US would need to unleash a massive air and missile bombardment ‘in order to save Israel’. But Iran would then do its best to turn the entire Middle East into an anti-American jihad. Note that the US military has made it clear its forces on the ground are suffering from overstretch.

Understandably, the US is looking to achieve its aims by other means, using the threat of an aerial bombardment as a back-up. It is investing huge sums of money in order to seduce or soften up political forces inside Iran.

National Peace Council

On July 3, a group of discredited politicians close to the Khatami ‘reformist’ faction of the regime, former ministers of the post-1979 first ‘nationalist-religious’ government (led by the Nehzat Azadi group) and Iranian ‘human rights’ activists got together with Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi to launch what is called the National Peace Council, with the aim of providing a “peaceful solution to the current stand-off between Iran and the United States”.1 This supposed unification of the Iranian “peace movement” stemmed from a call by Ebadi back in November 2007 - setting up a “temporary peace committee” to coordinate things.

This initiative, for all the talk of a peace movement, seems to have the support of individuals with little or no mass base in Iran. Eg, one of the leading founding members is Ibrahim Yazdi of the Nehzat Azadi group. Nehzat Azadi’s roots can be traced back to anti-shah activity, but they soon got caught up in support for Khomeini - some of its supporters were to become his ministers. Yazdi himself was Khomeini’s first foreign minister.

Also supporting this initiative are two important, albeit discredited, organisations on the left: the Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh Party. Both have uncritically tailed any elements they considered would help bring about the next incremental stage on their illusory ‘road to socialism’. This suicidal policy led them to align with ayatollah Khomeini’s ‘anti-imperialism’ (they paid the price when his regime slaughtered thousands of  their cadres) and has now transformed them into staunch defenders of the pro-capitalist neoliberals around Mohammed Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Both these clerics have been well rewarded for past services to imperialism - Rafsanjani is the richest man in Iran, and one of the richest in the world.

To the disgust of the Iranian secular opposition, both Tudeh and the Fedayeen are labouring under the illusion that the islamic republic can be reformed into some sort of democracy. As one Iranian student comrade put it to me, the Fedayeen Majority has a dogmatic conception of a “revolution in three parts”. The first two parts - ie, before the socialist stage - involve the construction of a ‘bourgeois democracy’. Khomeini was meant to introduce one of these two stages - but no-one seems to have told the supreme leader.

As for the ‘reformists’, they are increasingly marginalised and do not look like getting into power. The approach of Iran’s more principled secular opposition to the two wings of the regime has been ‘a plague on both your houses’ - student activists called for a boycott of the March elections and Tehran workers proudly displayed  their ink-free hands to the media to show that they had not voted.


The overwhelming majority of Iranians, of course, are vociferously anti-war. The horrific experiences of the Iraq-Iran conflict have not been forgotten, and the current disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the refugee crisis these have created, help to reaffirm anti-war sentiments.

But they are also wary of secret deals between their rulers and the imperialist powers. And anyway their main day-to-day concerns are about the worsening economic situation, privatisation, work casualisation, the systematic non-payment of wages and soaring inflation. These are all direct consequences of the policies of the ‘millionaire mullahs’ and their imposition of the International Monetary Fund agenda since ayatollah Rafsanjani’s presidency.

The NPC not only fails to address this key class issue, but positively aligns itself with the very people who have so consistently pushed through the IMF structural readjustment packages - the so-called ‘reformist’ wing of the theocratic regime. Purporting to provide a mouthpiece for the ‘Iranian people’, this campaign represents an attempt to provide a safe channel for anti-war feelings - it opposes both the “internal and external” warmongers (ie, both Bush and Ahmadinejad) - in the direction of the discredited and currently marginalised ‘reformist’ faction of the Tehran regime.

Though upholding three key, if superficially posed, demands against a military attack and sanctions, NPC fails to go beyond platitudes about the need for “long-lasting peace in Iran”. Shirin Ebadi herself says: “What we want is that the two sides should respect international law … the United States cannot have the right to deal with Iran outside the framework of international law, and Iran cannot build a wall around itself and say, ‘I have nothing to do with international law’ and pay no attention to security council resolutions.”2

John K Cooley, writing on the Casmii site, puts forward a similar solution for ‘peace’ - an imperialism with a diplomatic face, as opposed to the savage beast of sanctions, air strikes and occupations: “Reopening a US diplomatic mission in Tehran, dropping sanctions except those involving military technology [my emphasis] and improving the old offers of western and Russian, IAEA-supervised, peaceful nuclear technology”.3

What both of these statements betray is wishful thinking about the current stand-off between the US and Iran. The legalistic, liberal, pacifist ‘solutions’ they propose, along with the underlying faith in UN rules, is, in fact, nothing more than an imperialist peace - ie, the establishment of a pliant regime in Tehran that drops its overt anti-Americanism and would allow US corporations to take back Iranian oil and other such assets.

What is particularly worrying for genuine anti-war activists both here and in Iran is that the NPC’s proposed ‘solution’ chimes perfectly well with advanced US plans for a ‘velvet revolution’. Try Googling ‘National Peace Council Iran’, for example, and one of the first references you are offered is to a “community” blog posting on Barack Obama’s official website.4

Drawing the class line

The anti-war movement should be conscious of what the NPC could mean for how the US looks to resolve the ‘Iran question’. This development underlines once again that, in the absence of a clear class analysis and strategy, the movement will be blown this way and that. Neither apologetics for the brutal Ahmadinejad regime nor falling in behind clerical plutocrats like Khatami or Rafsanjani will advance the cause of our class one centimetre - that much should be obvious.

Although Socialist Worker does not like to talk about the growing support for secularism and Marxism on Iranian campuses, the SWP leadership could learn a thing or two from these brave comrades, not least their class analysis of the complex tasks that face them.

The blog Ave Daneshgah states that student struggles “can only succeed if they are united with the working class” - the “only force capable of bringing about radical and fundamental change”.5This approach, which should not be controversial for those who purport to be on the Marxist left, informs and guides the political outlook of the radical students. This allows them, of course, to clearly distinguish between their bitter enemies and potential allies.

The blog points the finger at the supporters of the “mullah with a smile” and warns again that Khatami is looking to make political gains from the struggles against war and oppression: “For us a dictator is dictator, whether he does his dirty deeds with a smile and chocolate-coloured aba[the cleric’s shawl - a reference to Khatami] or with a scroll and a cream-coloured aba[Ahmadinejad]”.

The SWP leadership faces a rotten choice. Will it tail Campaign Iran and Casmii? Or, in the name of the anti-imperialist united front and consistency, will the SWP stay true to the butcher Ahmadinejad? Clearly it cannot do both. It apears that the bloc, the agreement, the deal that once joined Campaign Iran/Casmii with Ahmadinejad has collapsed, gone, busted apart, leaving the SWP exposed.

So far, which way the SWP will go remains uncertain. Either of the two above options carries it own particular political costs and risks. And after the Respect fiasco, the SWP is badly holed.

There is, however, a third option. The comrades can join us in Hopi in the fight for working class politics. Adopting consistent anti-imperialism would mean roundly denouncing not only Ahmadinejad, but also those in Campaign Iran and Casmii who have switched to playing a bit role in a planned US-sponsored coup in Tehran.

This third option would of necessity mean openly and honestly accounting for and correcting past mistakes. It would therefore involve removing popular frontists like John Rees and Lindsey German from the SWP’s political and central committee. Without that the SWP simply cannot be trusted by the anti-war movement - either here in Britain or in Iran or, for that matter, anywhere at all.


1. irannuclearwatch.blogspot.com/2008/07/national-peace-council-in-iran.html
2. www.rferl.org/content/article/1079179.html
3. www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/5342
4. my.barackobama.com/page/community/post/No%20More%20Fear/gGxsMF
5. Quoted in Communist Student No5: communiststudents.org.uk/files/cs_issue5.pdf


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