Some thoughts on the proposed charter

Ben Lewis welcomes the initiative of Communist Workers of Iran and offers some fraternal criticisms

We welcome the political platform of the Communist Workers of Iran (CWI). We have proofed and edited the English text and are publishing it in the hope that, at a time when the Iranian masses are on the move once more, the question of the formation of a mass Marxist party in Iran can be seriously addressed. As Lenin once put it, without a party the working class is nothing, but with one it is everything.

We in the CPGB have been at the forefront of raising principled, anti-imperialist solidarity with the Iranian masses through our work in Hands Off the People of Iran. We have always made clear that solidarity demands a two-pronged fight, both against imperialist intervention and against the theocratic regime. As well as giving a voice to the demonstrations, slogans and demands of the Iranian working class and campaigning to raise money for strike funds and organising materials, it is also incumbent upon us to critically engage with the politics that our comrades are forging in the heat of struggle.

It is in this spirit that my comments on the CWI platform should be understood. Hopefully we can initiate a wider dialogue and learn from each other. This certainly is not intended as an attempt to lay down 'the line' from London to comrades abroad, by means of some sort of delusional 'international perspectives for Iran' theses à la Workers Power, Socialist Appeal, etc. I am aware of potential problems, and difficulties with translation, but a serious dialogue could prove fruitful.

The positives

From Britain, where halfway-housism, reformism and Labourism abound, it is certainly encouraging to see that the comrades are raising the need to form "working class parties based on Marxist concepts of class struggle, in order to lead the revolutionary movement" as an immediate task. "Throughout the world," they state, "revolutionary communists have a duty to form vanguard parties in the areas where they are based, to achieve the independence of the working class in line with revolutionary tactical and strategic goals." This task is also correctly historically located in the "new period" of imperialism following the collapse of the USSR and the "dispersion" and lack of intellectual orientation of the working class following "the defeats of the treacherous organisations and parties in the last century" - Stalinism and social democracy, in other words, with the former's treachery still fresh in the minds of Iranians since 1979.

We should certainly accentuate this extremely positive aspect of the platform and fight for this core premise in Britain, Iran and internationally. Largely due to its status as a 'core' imperialist country, the effects of the economic crisis here in Britain pale in comparison to what has engulfed Iran. But the objective need for a party of Marxism - ie, a democratic centralist organisation whose goal is the dictatorship of the proletariat (rule of the working class majority) and a clear commitment to communism - is just as great. Those looking to revive 'old Labour' or set up a Labour Party mark two are not only objectively opportunist: they are living in the wrong times.

There is a strong emphasis in this platform on working class independence and a clear rejection of popular frontism, with the comrades dismissing "the compromising theories which, using excuses such as the 'lack of working class readiness' or 'unpreparedness of the society's foundation', try to reduce its class goals to a level acceptable to the bourgeoisie". This is quite right: the strategy we expound must have the conquest of state power by the working class as its aim and all of our tactical shifts and retreats must be subordinate to this. Particularly at a time when Mir-Hossein Moussavi's 'reformists' are seeking to limit and control the movement, it is necessary to break any illusions the masses might have. It is also excellent that the platform stresses the need for "leadership of the working class party over all social movements" in order to win them "to fulfil the strategic goals and slogans of the revolutionary proletarian movement".


To do this, it is necessary for communists to seriously study the dynamics of other subordinate classes alongside the working class. Although the platform quite correctly identifies capitalism as the "dominant mode of production", with the majority class both in Iran and the world being the proletariat, it is too simplistic to merely talk of "two antagonistic classes confronting each other" or to argue that during the shah's rule "the collapsing feudal system was replaced with a capitalist mode of production". The Iranian state bureaucracy precisely retains aspects of feudal patronage and organisation, which is extremely important in terms of its relationship with other classes.

For example, there are other subordinate strata in Iran, such as the peasantry, the shanty-town dwellers eking out an existence by buying and selling what they can, the petty bourgeoisie, small landowners, etc. A communist programme for Iran should aim for the proletariat to become the hegemonic class, organising a programme for every particular democratic grievance - using the carrot and the stick to remove the threat of these other forces being won over as a bastion of reaction in the interests of the Iranian ruling class. Thus it would be helpful for the comrades to expand on the nature of relations in the countryside, how the towns and cities are fed and what demands possibly flow from this for communists.

I would have to take issue too with some of the strategic perspectives that result from this omission. For example, the immediate demands outlined do not seem to link up with a more general strategy for power, apart from numerous references to soviets - "the only form of state in class society that can take away all political and legal privileges of the bourgeoisie, and act as a key change to end relations in society which are based on prejudice vis-à-vis sex, class, nationality and religion". Further, by citing the example of the Paris Commune as the first incarnation of "people's assemblies (soviets)", the struggle for the "democratic republic" is incorrectly equated to "liberal and revisionist views of socialism which try to maintain pyramidal and parliamentarian bourgeois power using deceptive terms, such as 'democratic republic' …"

Indeed, such an approach would make Friedrich Engels either a liberal or a revisionist! It was he who pointed out: "If one thing is certain it is that our party and the working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the Great French Revolution has already shown" (A critique of the draft Social Democratic programme of 1891). Marx and Engels did indeed see the Paris Commune as a manifestation of the dictatorship of the proletariat - although it did not spring from soviet-style people's councils, but from an election to a local authority!

The sort of democratic republican demands developed by Marx and Engels which were realised in 1871 are also of extreme importance now in Iran: universal suffrage to an assembly with full legislative and executive power, instantly recallable representatives on a worker's wage; the people's militia, etc. Obviously this has nothing to do with the kind of two-stage revolution that the term 'democratic republic' clearly summons up for many comrades in Iran.

The danger of voluntarism looms here, however - for example, when the platform states that the Iranian working class welcomes the current crisis "to use the opportunity to overthrow and annihilate the bourgeois ruling machine" by establishing soviets, etc. Yet the soviet form of power only proved successful once, and then only for a limited time.

What was decisive in the Russian Revolution was the leadership of a Bolshevik Party that had sunk roots before the revolutionary outbreak of 1917 and that did have the struggle for the democratic republic at the heart of its programme. Whether the comrades want to use the name 'democratic republic' or not, it is evident that the current platform is missing key democratic demands in relation to the state on top of the ones that are included, such as freedom of assembly, etc.

The platform could also place more of a stress on the regional significance of the Iranian workers' movement. It is perfectly correct to emphasise the struggle for a "united international body capable of overthrowing the global capitalist order (imperialism)", a body that is different to the numerous parodies of genuine internationals organised today. However, is it also worth noting the importance of international cooperation across a Middle East torn by imperialism and reaction. Given that the struggle against imperialism now links more or less the entire region directly, I feel that with the right approach a Marxist party of that region could be a serious medium-term goal.

What this presupposes though, which is not mentioned in the text, is the strategic orientation required to actually fashion a party of the working class. For example, how does CWI wish to relate to other left organisations in Iran, however discredited they may be and however much they have been submerged by the 'green' movement? What about united front tactics and/or programmatic critiques of the cultism of the Hekmatists, the naked class-collaborationism of Tudeh and other groups?

Party organisation

The platform is right to "reject all petty bourgeois understandings of revolution that believe a group of vanguard 'representatives' of the working class can directly and without relying on the conscious, strategic and organised struggle of the working class to reach the final goal of working class revolution". Which is why the party form is a crucial political question.

This also has relevance in the organisational steps that CWI plans to take towards building a 'vanguard party'. As this paper has pointed out, the concept of a 'vanguard party' is a problematic one. Most of the far left upholds the example of a Bolshevik Party, as laid down by the first four congresses of the Comintern. But in looking to build Marxist parties as opposed to sects, it is necessary to look back to the origins of Bolshevism. In this period Lenin and his followers built an organisation around the acceptance (not agreement) of the party programme. Thus it would be better to talk of the formation of parties based on acceptance of a Marxist programme, as opposed to "Marxist concepts of class struggle".

The Bolsheviks were actually both a vanguard and a mass party, which aimed to follow the example of German Social Democracy under Russian conditions. This is also important. Open agitation and organisation is out of the question for our comrades in Iran. But with programmatic seriousness and a collective organiser, agitator and educator in the form of an Iskra-type Marxist publication that gives precedence to the formation of such a party, huge gains could be made. For this reason, it is important that the 'organisational' aspects of the platform are expanded to include the right to form factions, openly criticise party actions and positions before and after their implementation, and so on. These questions are not secondary. Given the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik Party itself, they are of huge importance for the kind of working class rule we wish to bring about.

Precisely because of the strategic defeats of our class in the 20th century, the overriding task of communists is to engage in serious programmatic rapprochement in order to live up to the huge opportunities that will be thrown our way in a new and dangerous period of capitalism's sordid history. We hope that some of these criticisms prove helpful. We look forward to a response, and are committed to doing our utmost to ensure that the Iranian working class can set its own agenda in the struggle against the tottering Islamic Republic.