Step up solidarity work

Yassamine Mather discusses the threats against and possibilities within Iran today

From the beginning Hands Off the People of Iran was opposed not only to the threat of war against Iran, but to all imperialist wars, including elsewhere in the region. We also wanted to stand resolutely against the theocratic regime in Iran, while fighting all attempts at regime change sponsored by the United States and its allies - whether through sanctions, war or any other means. Hopi supporters were and are in full solidarity with the struggles of Iranian workers, students, women and national minorities both to overthrow the religious state and to resist imperialism.

The success of our work both inside and outside Iran results primarily from our adherence to these basic principles - irrespective of the latest news headline regarding Iran’s uranium enrichment, the latest International Atomic Energy Agency findings or the latest imperialist war plans. Over the period of our existence the severity and extent of sanctions have dramatically increased and we are now facing the prospects of new measures, including sanctions against the import of refined fuel to Iran, according to US president-elect Barack Obama.

Sanctions and war

Throughout this period we have emphasised that sanctions are not only a form of ‘soft war’, but play a crucial role in paving the way for military action - so it would be foolish to interpret such action as a complete change of policy.

Since ancient times, the siege of a town or village has been an essential military weapon, producing hunger, demoralisation and division amongst the besieged community. Sanctions against Iran are intended to play exactly the same role. However, given the tenacity of Iran’s religious leaders in clinging to power, they are not just preparing the way for regime change from above (itself a thoroughly undesirable outcome from the point of view of revolution in Iran), but they are an integral part of the build-up to a military attack. The leaders of the Islamic regime, who have been so diligent in sending their personal fortunes abroad, are not affected by sanctions and they will not be overly affected by any impeding war either. The victims of such a war, like the victims of sanctions, will be the people of Iran.

We should also remember that the fundamental reasons for the conflict between US-EU imperialism and Iran’s religious state has a much longer history than the ‘war on terror’ or the policies of neo-conservatives in the Bush administration. It is essentially a fight between two states and its origins can be found in the humiliation of US imperialism in the revolutionary struggles of 30 years ago. Since that time and the subsequent defeat of the revolution by internal reactionaries, the Iranian people have had to confront two enemies at the same time: the US and its allies on the one hand, and the many factions of the Islamic republic government on the other. This confrontation will not end until they succeed in defeating both of these forces.

The first sanctions against Iran date back to 1981, and Obama’s plans for new forms merely emphasise the continuity of these policies. No-one should be in any doubt that Obama and Hillary Clinton, staunch supporters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, mean what they say: they will not tolerate “a nuclear Iran”. No wonder even the hard-line Binyamin Netanyahu is upbeat about Obama’s plans for Iran.1 The various factions of the Islamic regime have in effect no choice but to support the nuclear programme: they know that ‘crisis’ and the continued threat of war can be used as means of internal control and in order to maintain power they will reject any attempt at ‘resolving the crisis’, as demonstrated by Iran’s rejection of Obama’s latest ‘carrot and stick’ offer.2

His victory, and the new tactics likely to be employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, have not changed the fundamentals of US policy in the region. For both US and Israel the current regime in Iran remains a foe that needs to be removed.

This week’s official leaks by the outgoing Olmert government regarding Israel’s preparations to launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, with or without US approval, constitute the most serious threat of military action we have heard over the last two years:

“A senior Israeli official quoted in the Jerusalem Post said that, while it would be difficult, it would not be impossible to launch a strike against Iran without permission from the US, probably using low-yield, earth-penetrating nuclear bunker-busters … ‘There are a wide range of risks one takes when embarking on such an operation,’ a senior Israeli official was quoted as saying.

“The US airforce controls the Iraqi airspace Israel’s jets would have to cross on a bombing mission and access to codes from the Americans would ‘significantly improve’ Israel’s chances of a successful strike on Iran, an official told The Times. He added that ‘because the Iranians have been moving the bunkers deep underground, sophisticated weaponry would be needed to successfully destroy the facilities.’ Clearly this is not just a plan for the next few weeks, another unnamed Israeli official is quoted as saying: ‘There is still time and there is no need to rush into an operation right now.’”3

As comrade Moshé Machover has reminded us on a number of occasions, if it does eventually come to an attack, the US can pretend it had not approved it, but it was ‘plucky little Israel’ acting pre-emptively to defend itself. This would be like the pretence of Britain and France in the Suez war of 1956.

These latest threats from Israel came in the week when for the first time in the last 18 months IAEA officials played up the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Mohamed El Baradei has claimed that five years of US and international efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a failure:

“In retrospect, the sanctions may have led to more hardening of the position of Iran ... Many Iranians who even dislike the regime [are] gathering around the regime because they feel that the country is under siege.”4 The latest Nato intelligence on Iran’s nuclear programme came from none other than an Israeli team of experts from the Israel Defence Forces, who went to Brussels in early December.

They told their Nato counterparts that the focus of their delegation was on Iran’s efforts to develop the Shehab-4 missile, with a strike range of 3,000 kilometres. In other words, the Iranian people still face the threat of military attack at a time when internal political and economic conditions are at breaking point.

Workers feel effects

In early 2008 Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted that oil prices would not fall below $140 a barrel, but by November he was claiming that even if the price dropped to $5, Iran’s economy would be fine. In the last couple of weeks, however, the government has acknowledged publicly for the first time that the country is suffering badly from tumbling oil prices, which are now at $48 a barrel.

As temperatures drop to below zero in northern provinces, the government is considering cutting subsidies that keep heating and automobile fuel prices low, as well as imposing rationing. Iran imports some $350 million worth of fuel per month. However, the imposition of limited fuel rationing in the winter of 2007 caused demonstrations and riots. Economists have also warned that cutting fuel subsidies will shoot Iran’s inflation up to more than 50%. The rate of inflation is currently just below 30%.

Iran’s economy is also suffering from the cumulative effects of old and new sanctions. Many proposed oil and petrochemical deals have been abandoned. Since the spring of 2008 Royal Dutch Shell, Repsol and a Japanese oil company have pulled out of planned projects in Iran, after coming under pressure from the US, adding to the colossal number of job losses. The car industry and many firms related to this industry, facing shortage of essential engineering equipment and spare parts, have ended the contracts of tens of thousands of workers.

In what are uncertain economic times, most Iranians banks face additional uncertainty, as they are all listed in the 2007 UN sanctions. “This is slowly taking away Iran’s ability to issue letters of credit, thus increasing its cost of trade. In addition, Iran is finding that it will have no access to international capital markets; its only theoretical access to international credit will be at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, both of which the US can easily block”5

But sanctions are hitting ordinary Iranians in a number of ways. For example, hospitals are reporting shortages of medical diagnostic kits and surgical equipment as a direct result of the blocking of imported ‘dual-use’ equipment.

Sanctions and solidarity

The Hopi conference will discuss how to fight sanctions and a number of practical measures are already being proposed. In this respect it is important to emphasise our solidarity with Iranian workers, who are losing their jobs by the thousand as a result of both Iran’s economic crisis and closures directly caused by sanctions. Large numbers of workers have been dismissed in the car industry, in oil and petrochemicals, in steel manufacturing ... In addition many factories have ‘temporarily’ stopped production.

We must devote time and effort to developing political solidarity as well as giving financial support to these workers. In this respect we must back the efforts of Workers Fund Iran to reduce and relieve poverty amongst Iranian workers (both employed and unemployed) who are victims of sanctions and the economic policies of the Iranian regime, including privatisation. We need to rebuild international working class solidarity, in opposition to the funds set up by the US administration to support those Iranian NGOs that follow US policy (including regime change from above).

We must play our part in alleviating poverty amongst wage-earners, whose salaries have not been paid through no fault of their own, as well as workers who have lost their jobs as a result of factory closures, sanctions, privatisation, bankruptcy of the factory owner or discrimination because of trade union activities. We can and should provide support for child labourers, workers who have to work two or three consecutive shifts in order to support their families and women who work long hours with little pay in sweatshops exempt from any labour legislation. Such efforts will also expose the hypocrisy of imperialist-sponsored ‘solidarity’ with Iranian workers.

In addition we must take up the task of researching more thoroughly the effects of sanctions - naming and shaming those firms that have stopped exporting essential equipment, claiming they have no choice but to abide by official demands. These policies are costing the lives of ordinary Iranians and such companies are collaborating with them.

I argued earlier that sanctions and war go hand in hand, yet the Stop the War Coalition has failed to mobilise effective opposition to the new threats. Its constant attempts to equate opposition to war in the Middle East with support for political Islam, its dismissal of solidarity with Iranian workers and students as posturing or of minor importance, and its apologetic support for the regime in Iran have damaged the credibility of the movement.

2009 marks the 30th anniversary of the Islamic republic, yet three decades after coming to power with promises of social justice and economic independence it presides over one of the most corrupt capitalist regimes in the region. Its disastrous economic policies have increased the gap between rich and poor; its dependence on a single commodity, oil; its total subservience to international capital - all surely prove not only the fallacy of its anti-imperialist claims, but also the abysmal failure of political Islam.

So 2009 must be the year socialists in the anti-war movement go on the offensive, arguing against ‘Islamic’ solutions to imperialist war and destruction. In order to achieve this we must redouble our activities in the STWC - the plight of Iranian workers and their struggles to overthrow capitalism and imperialism cannot be separated from the plight of Iraqis or Afghans fighting occupation and military barbarism.


1. www.reuters.com/article/vcCandidateFeed2/idUSL8304909
2. www.cnsnews.com/public/content/article.aspx?RsrcID=40462
3. www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article5284173.ece
4. www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/JK20Ak01.html
5. ibid

Student Day success

For weeks before this year’s demonstration to commemorate Student Day (December 8), Iranian government propaganda advertised scheduled visits by Islamic leaders to various universities as part of a series of ‘Meet the students’ events. These visits were meant to display the regime’s confidence in the light of external threats and growing internal discontent.

However, as the day approached, it became clear that the more senior figures of the regime would not fulfil their appointments. First came news of the withdrawal of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, from Tehran’s Elm o Sanat University, followed by that of president Ahmadinejad.

The only government member who ventured onto a campus, Ali Larijani, Iran’s former nuclear negotiator and current leader of the majles (Islamic parliament), was humiliated when he turned up at Shiraz University.

One student speaker expressed hatred for Ahmadinejad and the regime, while questioning the legitimacy of both Larijani and the majles. In a well distributed video (also available on YouTube) the student says: “I don’t accept you as the head of the Iranian majlis and I don’t accept the majlis as representative of the Iranian people!”

Shiraz University saw an anti-government demonstration of more than 2,500, with leftwing students playing an important role, as they did at Mazandaran University. Some events were, however, organised by supporters of the ‘reformist’ faction of the regime, as opposed to the Marxist left, which has recently suffered brutal repression.

More than 4,000 gathered outside the engineering college of Tehran University, where security forces and agents from the ministry of intelligence blocked the main entrance. However, the students broke down a back gate and joined the gathering already in progress.

Amongst the chants were: “Free all political prisoners” (many students carried banners calling for the release of three fellow students, who have been held since May), “Death to the dictator”, “Ahmadinejad is responsible for destruction in Iran”, “Ahmadi - Pinochet, Iran will not become Chile” (this rhymes in Farsi) and “Mr President, the student movement will fight until the end.”