‘Beginning of the End’ by Yassamine Mather

Ayatollah Khamenei’s June 19 speech reminded many Iranians of some of the utterances of the shah in the last months of his rule: former president and current chairman of the ‘assembly of experts’ Ali Akbar Rafsanjani cannot be corrupt – he has been the supreme leader’s friend for over 50 years! Everyone in Iran had accepted the results of the elections: it was all the fault of foreign powers and foreign media that some people are now doubting them! Conspiracies are all around us and, just as in colonial times, the British are behind it.
The problem with most dictators is that, even in their dying days, they believe they can stop the movement by simply passing orders or blaming ‘foreign powers’. Some supporters of the shah are still under the illusion that he was not overthrown by the 1979 Iranian revolution, but was deposed thanks to a plot by Britain and the US. In fact, as he went on speaking, attributing strange comments to Obama (the US president has apparently admitted in public that he had been looking forward to the demonstrations that have rocked Iran), one wondered if Khamenei, well known for using opium as a painkiller for his injured arm, had taken a double dose that morning.
He said that he liked Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and agreed with most of his statements (one assumes that includes denial of the holocaust, the claim that Ahmadinejad had introduced Venezuela to Islam, that inflation is going up in all European and western countries, that Iran’s economic problems have nothing to do with government policy, but are solely the consequences of the world economic crisis … ).
Yet the supreme leader did rebuke his president on one issue: he was wrong to accuse Rafsanjani and his own adviser, Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, and their relatives of corruption. Both families were his friends, pillars of the Islamic state and he did not want to hear such “baseless accusations”. This, it seems, is the only comment made by Ahmadinejad in his four years as president which is a lie or an exaggeration.
However, if Khamenei and his advisers had thought this speech would put a stop to the protests, they were mistaken. In the absence of a clear lead by Mir-Hossein Moussavi or fellow ‘reformist’ candidate Mehdi Karroubi (neither of whom persevered with their previous calls for further demonstrations) Saturday’s protests were far more radical, challenging the very existence of the Islamic state. For the first time since 1979, crowds shouted “Death to the vali faghih” (supreme religious leader) and “Death to Khamenei”. By Monday the slogans were aimed against the whole order: “Death to the Islamic regime”, “Death to the Bassiji” and, in another flashback to 1979, the taunting of the security forces with “Be scared of the day we are armed”.
It is now clear that the attempt to impose Ahmadinejad on the Iranian people for another term has thrown the entire regime into terminal crisis, as calls for a general strike are gaining support. On Sunday June 21, Karroubi, still dreaming of a compromise, commented that the regime could yet save “the Islamic order” by annulling the elections. But the failure to do so, combined with the hesitation and dithering of the ‘reformists’, means we are seeing the beginning of the end. No doubt the process could be drawn out and its outcome unpredictable, but it has begun and no-one can stop it.
Of course, the expulsion of foreign reporters and banning of many newspapers have reduced media coverage of the protests, including the new slogans and changing nature of the demonstrations, but most bourgeois journalists still in Tehran could see that by June 23 the very existence of the Islamic republic regime was being challenged by demonstrators. In central districts of Tehran, youths were attacking banks as well as government offices and military barracks.
The calls for a general strike, sit-ins and other forms of civil disobedience are gaining momentum and the protests have now clearly spread to many provincial cities and even some smaller towns, despite the regime’s resort to increasingly repressive methods. Contrary to the claims of apologists for the Iranian regime and some reporters, the demonstrations were not and are not dominated by the middle classes. In fact Iran does not possess such a huge middle class and those who did turn out took courage by the presence on the streets in the first week of large sections of poorer classes.
Those of us who can identify the class composition of demonstrators from their clothes and accents have not had the slightest doubt about the predominance of workers and wage-earners (including teachers, nurses and public employees) on recent protests, but for the benefit of those who have no knowledge of Iran and who keep telling us the demonstrators are ‘middle class’ let me explain some basic facts.
If you live in a country where the ministry of labour claims that over 80% of the workforce are employed on limited contracts and reassures capitalists that by 2010 the figure will have reached 100%, who do you think will join protest demonstrations?
If you live in a country where in the year ending March 2009 despite the repression there were over 4,000 workers’ actions against privatisation and job losses (unemployment stands at 30%, while inflation has reached 25%), including sit-ins, the kidnap of managers, as well as strikes, who do you think will join protest demonstrations?
If you live in a country that has been praised by the International Monetary Fund for its firm pursuit of neoliberal economic policies, all under a certain Mr Ahmadinejad, who do you think will join protest demonstrations?
If you live in a country where teachers and nurses have waged at least four major strikes in the last two years against their government’s economic and political stance, who do you think will join protest demonstrations?
Let us stop talking of the ‘middle class’ nature of these specific protests. However, a number of points have to be considered. Contrary to comments by people such as George Galloway, the Iranian revolution of 1979 was not started by the working class. Students, many of them children of middle class families, initiated the anti-shah protests, which were confined at first to university campuses, and the same students were later in the forefront of the first major demonstrations. It is no secret that the actions of a minority of middle strata can sometimes spark a mass movement.
In 2009, however, the working class has not been slow off the mark – as early as last week the idea of a general political strike has been in the air. It is the left and its activists who have been slow to respond to such calls.
On June 18 Iran Khodro car workers issued the following statement: “We declare our solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran. Autoworkers, fellow workers, what we witness today is an insult to the intelligence of the people, and disregard for their votes, the trampling of the principles of the constitution by the government. It is our duty to join this people’s movement.
“We, the workers of Iran Khodro, … will stop working for half an hour on every shift to protest against the suppression of students, workers and women and declare our solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran.”
Similarly, the union of Vahed bus workers declared on June 19: “In recent days, we continue witnessing the magnificent demonstration of millions of people from all ages, genders and national and religious minorities in Iran. They request that their basic human rights, particularly the right to freedom and to choose independently and without deception, be recognised. These rights are not only constitutional in most countries, but also have been protected against all odds.”
The statement went on to condemn the “threats, arrests, murders and brutal suppression” and called for support for the protests, which “demand a response from each and every responsible individual and institution”. It continued: “… since the Vahed Syndicate does not view any of the candidates as supporting the activities of workers’ organisations in Iran, it would not endorse any presidential candidate in the election. Vahed members nevertheless have the right to participate or not to participate in the elections and vote for their individually selected candidate.
“Moreover, the fact remains that demands of almost an absolute majority of the Iranians go far beyond the demands of a particular group … [We] fully support this movement of Iranian people to build a free and independent civil society …”
Oil workers have also used well established channels of communication to discuss the possibility of a strike. Meanwhile a general strike has affected the whole of the Kurdish province, with most cities and towns practically closed down. Calls for a nationwide general strike are growing by the day.

One response to “‘Beginning of the End’ by Yassamine Mather

  1. Pingback: Le début de la fin « Révolution en Iran

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