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Street fighting after presidential elections in Iran

On June 13, 2009 the results of the presidential election in Iran became known. Since, the world has witnessed a gulf of protests in the Iranian cities, first and foremost in the conglomerate Tehran (13.000.000 inhabitants), thereupon throughout the country. Demonstrators refused to recognise the official result of the elections (62.6% for the current government). They feel deceived by a government “which had stolen their voice”. Seeing, after thirty years, a social movement arise in Iran might of course be a reason for great joy, but even more it is necessary to point out the dangers and lack of immediate perspectives.

Like elsewhere, the living conditions of the workers’ families and further population in Iran are degrading significantly. No country escapes from the present unknown worsening of the economic world crisis. While inflation increases strongly, wages are sometimes not being paid for months. As a consequence of poverty and of the blood sacrifices which were made during the eight year war with Iraq (1980-1989) two-third of the population is under thirty years, that is to say: born after the “Islamic revolution” of 1979. Unemployment amongst the youth is enormous: for the country as a whole about 30%; in the cities this number is significantly higher. One of the consequences is ever more lack of perspectives, criminality, drugs abuse and prostitution. This is an assault on the morality of a whole generation and of society as a whole. Even those who manage after hard study to finish secondary school, ever more find the closed doors of academies and universities. And these have anyway deteriorated into big mosques controlled by militias of the Hezb Allah (Party of God). The perspective of growing precariousness slowly starts to turn against the regime. One aspect is that it is ever more tried to escape the restrictions on personal liberty and interference with private live, women ahead. Thus, next to the controlled social structures, parallel circuits arise, entirely of partly outside of the control of the mullahs.
Despite the persistent ban on protest and meetings, inflicting severe punishment, in 2008 and 2009 there have been regular protests in factories, offices, universities, academies, as well as on the streets. The persistent intimidation and the many arrests made have not been able to make an end to it. This only shows that repression alone is not enough any longer to rule and that the influence of moral blackmail through religion decreases. It also explains the tensions within the ruling regime which is in urgent need for a better legitimation. This was the real background of the elections.

After thirty years there isn’t a lack of combativeness any longer, but there is a lack of immediately perspective for the struggle. Very strong is the completely false idea that it would mainly be about a struggle of a freedom loving youth against “theocratic despotism”. That idea is not only spread by Iranian social-democrats, stalinists, trotskyists and other leftists, but it is also embraced by the western liberal media. Within that framework of general confusion the presidential elections could have a major impact:

 The expectations could be raised that a shift of power within the ruling regime might lead to an amelioration of the situation while the regime has proven to be capable to rule only by becoming ever more frenetic and merciless.

 They offered the possibility for the regime, depending on the electoral results, to reoganise itself in front of the dissatisfaction and protests, or, more probably, to settle scores violently with rivals in its own ranks.

Hence also the appearance that the interests of the different social classes are completely mingled, that there would not be any social question, but above all particularly a democratic “struggle of the people” for “modernisation” and “the separation of church and state”. The major mass of the demonstrators however consists of working class children, who have very different interests.

During the presidential elections the conflict between governmental and oppositional fractions of the regime have been played out wide. Both fractions know very well that there is a lot of discontent among the population, particularly, but not only, among the youth. That is why bot did their upmost not only to control this discontent, but also to exploit it in their own interest:

 The governmental fraction of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad managed to mobilise some dissatisfied youth with a political diversion, including television debates with the opposition. First and foremost with a chauvinist appeal on “the masses” which would have to secure the “Iranian Islamic Revolution”; then by proclaiming a contested “victory over the opposition”; and finally by accusing “the West”, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, of interfering in “internal Iranians affairs”. The governmental fraction not only tries thus to legitimise its own power in order to impose it with even more strength on the workers and the population as a whole, it also tries, in passing, to make the competing fraction, which anyway is no real danger to it, shut up.

 Mir-Hossein Mousavi Khameneh, the as “liberal” tipped leader of the opposition, has become an idol of some youth. Yet, not only does he maintain friendly ties with ayatollahs like Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Seyed Mohammad Khatami. He was also First Minister from 1981 tot 1989. During the eight-year war with Iraq this fraction of the regime sent youth and even children to the military fronts in order to serve as cannon-further in the defence of Iranian imperialist interests. This fraction was also the first responsible for the choking in blood of all protests and for the killings and torturing in and outside the prisons, and for massively driving into exile all that seemed to be oppositional. After twenty years of absence on the public political stage Mousavi still holds considerable power and he also performs important duties in decisive public bodies. The argument that after a victory of Mousavi it would be possible to discuss just about anything was also put forward by religious groupings during the resurrection in 1979 and does not even deserve consideration.

The real tensions within the regime, for as far it is not just an orchestrated farce, were the product of social tensions. The regime apparently wanted to measure the extend of these, and such created some room for further protest. But this protest remains imprisoned with alternatives which do not surpass the framework of the same regime. However won the elections, the regime always wins, and the attendance was high. Whatever the workers voted, for them going to the ballot box was a declaration of support for the regime. It also forms a legitimation for internal, and possibly even bloody settlement of accounts within a regime which has given proof not to be capable otherwise than through terror covered by pious words. In between, particularly the workers’ families have lost their voices because it makes it more difficult for them to choose for a better life without exploitation and oppression.

The protests, within this framework, have no perspective whatsoever, and also seen the lack of experience and the political naivety there is just yet little chance that the movement takes another direction. The electoral show was precisely meant to obtain a better grip on the protests by the fractions fighting between themselves and they can easily manipulate with religious illusionary contradictions. When the oppositionists of Mousavi have started in between to announce strikes against the current government, it is not only to better exploit the workers politically, but also in order to prevent that the anger within the working class takes a whole different direction.

Moreover, with the battle cry “God is great” (which can hardly be forbidden as it also was the slogan of the movement of ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini) the social movement is captured within a religious framework.

At present, leftist and left bourgeois fractions in general are again very excited by the social unrest and this time too they cause a true fuddle:

 Under the well know slogan “the movement is everything and the goal is nothing” they have drawn up a “stet-by-step plan”: a victory of Mousavi would represent a step in the right direction and by consequence they advise the demonstrators to continue blindly and risk their lives in a struggle for other exploiters and oppressors of the same regime. They advise the population to choose for the “lesser evil” of those who in the past have proven not to be any better than the rest. In this way they keep the workers once again from defending their own interests. In this way they prevent the workers once again to become conscious of their own power and get more self confident. In this way they strengthen once again the illusion that something might be expected from this regime. The left and leftist groups and organisations call upon the workers to support the “popular movement” which is nothing but a call for class collaboration with the own exploiters and oppressors within a nationalist framework.

 They also defend that “a movement without a powerful leader (like Mousavi) is impossible”. That too serves undermining all trust of the workers in their own force and self-organisation, and it also serves to recruit them in the defence of the interests of exploiters and oppressors.

What can we do? In the first place we cannot forget the causes of the dissatisfaction, that is to say capitalist exploitation and oppression. We express our solidarity with the demonstrators who will be wounded, populate the prisons or are being murdered. But precisely because of our solidarity we need to make clear the lack of perspectives of these actions al long as they remain within a religious framework and the one of the elections. What happens now in the Iranian cities remains imprisoned in illusions and has little to do the working class and its class interests.

The workers and their children who are furious and without hope and let themselves be tempted to participate in such a movement defend the opposite of their own interests. And the best thing they can do is to take distance from this movement lacking any perspective. It is necessary that the working class appears on stage to open whole different perspectives.

The only historical power which can make an end to oppression and exploitation is the working class. And the working class builds its strength on general assemblies, shoras, and frontier crossing extension of the struggle.

20 June 2009, N.

(Translated from Dutch by Vico, 3 July 2009)