Self-determination and the fight for a socialist state

The Communist Party of Iran is an ex-Maoist organisation, which now states it is 'closer to Trotskyism'. On his recent trip to Iraqi Kurdistan, Rozh Ahmad visited the camp run by Komalah, the CPI grouping in Kurdistan, and spoke to Hassan Rahman Panah, a member of its central committee

What are the aims of Komalah?

We are a Marxist organisation, and our maximum programme is to destroy capitalism and replace it with a workers’ state in Iran. Our socialist demands are the same as those in the CPI’s programme. However, as there is national oppression in Kurdistan, ending this is one of our prime goals. We are fighting for people’s judicial power in Kurdistan, which was agreed upon at our latest congress.

Our party believes that the Iranian state is run by a theocratic, dictatorial regime. It has created a barrier which denies people their basic democratic rights, and so the destruction of this theocratic regime and its replacement by a democratic government through mass workers’ participation is the only way to guarantee the democratic rights of the people of Iran.

Of course, socialism is what we are aiming for and we do not think of it as a distant goal. However, socialism cannot be achieved through a single political party: it needs the mass of workers to be organised. But a mass, conscious proletariat could only come through the collapse of the theocratic dictatorship in Iran.

How much support does Komalah-CPI enjoy among the Iranian people?

I do not want to spout propaganda - you can ask others - but we are one of the main opposition forces in the country. For example, six years ago we called for a general strike; the call was opposed by almost all of the other Iranian opposition forces, including those in exile. But we went ahead with it and it met with a good response. The mass support for the strike forced even the Iranian regime to respond to its demands. Last year we called for another general strike in Kurdistan, and this time it was supported by all the different political organisations that had learned from their mistakes in the recent past. It was actually supported from the right as well as the left of the Kurdish movement, and again it was a success.

This demonstrated the strength of our support among the people in Kurdistan. Also, due to the fact that Komalah has a history in Kurdistan (our organisation was in control of the Kurdish region of Iran after the 1979 revolution), the differences in terms of practice are clear, when people compare us to the nationalist forces, such as the Democratic Party of Kurdistan-Iran (PDKI).

On occasions such as May Day celebrations and March 8 [International Women’s Day], there are always strikes, demonstrations and other anti-establishment activities. I do not want to claim that those activities are entirely led by us - they include other workers’ and women’s rights activists too, who are struggling independently in Iran, but they are often inspired by our programme.

Recently, we have been quite influential in Iran too, especially in the universities and in the workers’ unions in Tehran, Esfahan, Khuzestan and even in Azerbaijan. You can see this too in our media outlets, which illustrates that we are a movement growing among the people of Iran. Nevertheless, you should not forget that our demands and activities are opposed with an iron fist by the theocratic regime. Hence the struggle is underground and limited too, but in recent years, through our media, especially our radio and TV stations, the message has been spread widely and the broadcast of our demands through these channels has given us the opportunity to win strong support from the people. So, yes, we see ourselves as a movement growing among the masses and the poor.

Here in this camp the comrades are armed. How do you view armed struggle?

The armed struggle was a tactic to defend ourselves; it was imposed on us by the Islamic regime after Khomeini announced a jihad against the Kurdish people in Iran. When our organisation was in control of the Kurdish region, there was complete freedom during that period; there were no political prisoners and nobody was ever executed for their political affiliation. Most of the Iranian newspapers and magazines came to Kurdistan despite being banned in Tehran.

The armed struggle was a tactic and it has been fairly successful in defending the people. If we had not carried out that struggle, Khomeini and the Islamic regime’s forces could have destroyed Kurdistan and carried out mass atrocities similar to what happened in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Our activities mainly consist of civil and mass political struggle, but if we did not have guns we would not be able to defend our media. We carry guns to defend the political and also the civil struggle that we are trying to carry out in Iran today among university students, in the workers’ unions and women’s organisations. We are envisaging a society where there are no guns. We even criticise some small groups carrying out armed struggle in Iran for giving the regime an excuse to militarise Kurdistan. The struggle is in the cities, in the factories and among the oppressed in Iran.

What are the main differences between Komalah-CPI and other opposition forces?

I will tell you about our differences with other organisations on the left, because I do not really consider the monarchists and other such groups as opposition forces. Generally we do not differ so much in our programmes - we all demand a workers’ state, socialism, etc. The differences are on tactical issues regarding our daily struggle and the strategy for that struggle.

For our part, we do not believe we can achieve our goals just through increasing our membership. However, other forces, even though they are very small at present, argue that through gaining thousands of cadres they could bring about socialism. We do not believe in one organisation gaining power and handing it to the workers. Komalah-CPI believes our aims and objectives can only be achieved through mass, organised, conscious workers. There must be organisation from below and conscious participation of the workers in the process to set up their own state. So in Iran the differences are in our daily, practical struggle.

In Kurdistan it is different, because there is a cause which involves all of us, from the right to the left of the movement, and that is the right of the Kurdish nation to self-determination. The differences are between federalism and the right of Kurdish nation to form its own independent state. All the other Kurdish forces are demanding federalism, when the right to self-determination is a basic democratic right of every nation. They fear being labelled rebels or separatists by demanding that democratic right, but we clearly state that Kurdistan must separate from Iran if the Kurdish people demand it.

From the experience of other nations around the world, it is clear that federalism is the wrong way to go about it. The experience of the Kurdistan regional government in Iraq shows that, as does the experience of Palestine, India and other countries around the world. So why not fight for the right of the people to choose their own fate? As in the separation of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, it is a democratic right and we defend it to the core in our democratic programme to guarantee the rights of every nation and ethnicity within Iran - and that includes the right to secede.

When you talk about setting up a democratic state are you referring to a two-stage theory to achieve socialism?

In Iran there is no separation of state and religion and there are no democratic rights. Very basic rights - for women, children, for the different nations and other ethnic minorities, and so on - are not recognised by the system. If the working class could gain the strength to build socialism, that would be great. However, the workers need to go through a stage to do that. We are fighting for a government that could guarantee all democratic rights, similar to the rights recognised in Europe today, such as freedom of the press, equality between men and women, and the right of nations to self-determination. These are the preconditions that could open the closed road to building a socialist state in Iran.

Now, we disagree with the Stalinist notion of a democratic state as part of the two-stage theory. The idea of socialism in one country was brought into so-called Marxism by Stalin. If we go back to Marx, he did not even imply a single party for each country. As a matter of fact, he participated in the International Working Men’s Association. We reject the Stalinist theory - quite popular among the Iranian left, particularly among the reformists - that calls for a democratic government without workers’ control. By contrast, we think that such a democratic government has to be under workers’ control.

Stalinism and Soviet-type communism ditched international socialism and disabled many great socialist movements around the world for the USSR’s benefit. For example, the Soviet Union turned its back on the first ever Kurdish republic in Iranian territory (aka Republic of Mahabad), which was established by Qazi Muhammad in 1946, because of the Soviet Union’s relations with the monarchy in Iran. The Kurdish republic was sacrificed for Soviet political interests.

Some of the communist parties in the Middle East were among the biggest in the world, but they were decimated by Stalinism, and revolutionary communists were executed. For instance, Avetis Sultanzadeh, who was a great leader in the Iranian communist movement and its well-known representative in the Third International, was executed by the Soviet Union in the 1930s. This was all done in the name of Marxism. The Communist Party of Iraq had one million members after the republican revolution in 1958 - it had 500,000 members on the streets of Baghdad celebrating May Day that year. But its policies were determined by Moscow’s interests, and the communists were told not to take power in Iraq.

So we reject that theory. But the problem is not whether socialism is practicable in Iran or not - many who insist on that sort of black and white analysis do so in order to argue it is not. Is socialism possible in the US, Canada, Britain or Japan? The debate cannot be black and white. It has to do with the consciousness of the working class and whether the movement is powerful enough.

Our organisation views the democratic state from the point of view of the balance of class forces. If the workers and the toilers in Iran have more strength than the bourgeoisie, then it is obvious and absolutely possible for the workers to take power and begin the process of building socialism.

Komalah-CPI publications are full of references to internationalism. How do you view Hugo Chávez’s call to build a fifth international?

We do not even consider Chávez to be a socialist. He supports Ahmadinejad, one of the biggest capitalist murderers in Middle East, so how could people trust him to build socialism? He supports a government which murders youth, women and political prisoners.

This region has had many examples of people claiming to be anti-imperialist. Saddam Hussein Iraq was another one - like Ahmadinejad he was fond of so-called ‘anti-imperialist’ slogans. But he carried out mass atrocities against the Kurds here, gassed Halabja town in 1988 and destroyed many villages in Operation Anfal, the attempt by the former regime in Iraq to ethnically cleanse the Kurds in 1987-88. Yet he was labelled a socialist by some.

We think Chávez came to power as a result of US oppression in Latin America and America’s long war against freedom lovers in that entire continent. We do not consider his administration to be a socialist government built by workers and the poor from below. Power is not in the hands of the Venezuelan working class.

As a Communist Party we are internationalists, but we do not belong to any international. We have participated in international communist aggregations, but we have not concluded we ought to become a member. This year we participated in an international conference of communist and socialist organisations in Germany, where, as well as European communists, there were representatives from Latin America and Asia. But we were there as observers.

Our party has ideological and political differences with the Trotskyist internationals, even though we share some similarities. But we do not have any common ground with the Stalinists and the Maoists. We consider ourselves closer to the Trotskyists, who are more radical. We have activists in Europe, especially Norway and Sweden, who have relations with working class organisations, and we exchange different analyses on the movement’s politics and strategy with them.

The European workers’ movement is very weak - in fact that has been the case since World War II. There have been movements capable of destroying capitalism in France and other European countries, but the trade union bureaucracy looks to the bourgeoisie and is incapable of leading a movement to transform society, or even to develop a vision for a socialist society as an alternative to capitalism.

If there had been a communist international and a European Communist Party, do you think the situation would have been different?

This is really the weakness of the communist movement around the world, including our own organisation. When there was an international in Marx’s lifetime with the Communist manifesto as its programme, the workers’ movement was politically armed in Europe and America. Currently such a thing does not exist and that is our weakness.

There are other factors too, such as the hegemony of neoliberalism, and the coming to power of governments such as that of Thatcher in Britain, which almost destroyed the powerful workers’ movement. Then there were those states that were claiming to be communist like the Soviet Union. To this day, China still claims to be a ‘communist’ country (one where, according to a recent survey, 3,000 workers died in coal mines in 2008). This is useful propaganda for the capitalists in order to blind the workers and lie about genuine socialism and communism.

So, yes, Komalah-CPI believes in internationalism. This does not mean we claim to be leading revolutions in China or Europe. We are carrying out that struggle in Iran, where we are trying to lead the workers’ movement, but we need to be part of an international, which does not exist. The capitalist system is a global system; we have to be a global organisation to challenge it. This applies to organisations all over the world. For example, to oppose the capitalists who have come together in the European Union, the movement needs a European workers’ union and a European Communist Party.