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The Class Nature of the Iranian Regime
anti-war / imperialism |
Thursday July 19, 2007 15:19 by Torab Saleth - Workers Left Unity Iran torab_s at hotmail dot com
The current Iranian regime, in power in the so-called "Islamic Republic of Iran" since the 1979 revolution against the Shah, continues to confuse many observers as to its true nature. The intrinsic confusion lies precisely in the fact that it is considered as a post-revolutionary regime.
You constantly hear the argument that whatever it is, and however bad and vicious it may be, it nevertheless is a regime which came out of a revolution against the Shah's dictatorship. Somehow, this mechanistic logic is then used to bestow a certain air of progressiveness upon a regime which for any observer with a little political sense is nothing but a semi-fascistic theocracy defending capitalism.
Torab Saleth is a member of Workers Left Unity Iran and is also a member of the Advisory Editorial Board of the journal Critique. Here, Torab provides an analysis of the class nature of the Iranian Regime.
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Its apologists, since 1979, have constantly resorted to such simplistic devices to gloss over the brutal and backward character of this capitalist regime the like of which has not been seen in modern history.
What all the apologists fail to mention is the fact that yes, this regime did indeed come out of a revolution, but as the counter-revolution defeating that revolution, as a force which crushed the mass movement against the Shah's regime by establishing its own order even more reactionary than what it replaced. The very same force which is now, in front of the whole world, collaborating in the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq with the very same President Bush who is trying his best to send the entire Iranian society back to the middle ages. So this so-called post-revolutionary regime is simply a kind of counter-revolution that got rid of both the revolution and the Shah. It is now a well documented fact that by the middle of 1979, at the top levels of International and Iranian bourgeois circles, the powers that mattered, had reached a simple compromise: you get rid of the revolution we get rid of the Shah!
Let us also not forget, given the degree of participation by the masses, the Iranian Revolution of 1977-79 was one of the most important revolutions of the 20th century. During the four months leading to the insurrection in Feb 1979 there was a general strike involving over 4 million workers. Strike committees had sprung up everywhere and neighborhood committees were controlling most urban areas. On the night of the insurrection in Tehran alone it was estimated that more than 300,000 revolvers and machine guns were ransacked from various military arsenals and distributed amongst the population. No wonder, the counter-revolution that defeated it was also one of the most vicious counter-revolutions seen in recent history. The last Shah was justly called "The Butcher of the Middle East!" In almost 40 years of his rule around 500 political prisoners were executed. The new regime, in its first 10 years alone, and at the most conservative estimate, had already executed over 20,000 political prisoners, all leaders and activists of the 1979 revolution.
The historical results of this counter-revolution are also obvious for all to see. If during the last decade of the Shah's rule a group of around 100 families used state power to monopolize the entire Iranian economy, this has now been reduced to less than 60 families. If the Shah at least allowed some degree of docile yellow unionism to operate in his kingdom, this regime cannot even tolerate worker representation in a 3-partite system. Only Islamic Associations controlled by the local mosque or the local paramilitary group is allowed. The majority of the population in Iran is now officially under the poverty line. This is a country rich in natural resources, which has almost quadrupled its foreign exchange receipts over the last 10 years. With over 10m unemployment, wages have been pushed so far back that those who do find work have to do more than one job just to survive. Selling kidneys or even the whole body is now the largest source of income for the urban poor. Right now, there are tens of thousands of workers whose wages have not been paid for well over a year. There is absolutely no protection under the law for almost 85% of the work force. The rate of suicide among the Iranian working class is now higher than Britain during the industrial revolution.
As for its anti-imperialism, suffices to say that at least the father of the current US President knows this to be a sham better than any one else. The Islamic regime had absolutely no problem in negotiating a deal with US imperialism and Israel via George Bush the senior. Forget the anti-terrorist rhetoric repeated daily on the international media, every one knows without Iranian backing, USA could not have stayed in Afghanistan or Iraq until now. George Bush can blame Iran for its failure in Iraq, whilst the Iranian regime can blame the threat of war for suppression of all opposition at home. Just see how the nuclear crisis has helped both the Iranian regime to redeem itself in the Islamic world after its collaboration with US imperialism in the occupation of two neighboring countries, and US Imperialism in not only justifying its military occupation of the whole region but even increasing its presence and intensifying its threat.
But even these hard facts do not resolve the difficulty for the regimes apologists. Especially, when you consider the odd feature of the Iranian revolution that this very same counter revolutionary force actually participated in the revolutionary movement itself. In a way you could even say it took over the leadership of that revolution. But how can that be!?
There is of course the obvious answer that in order to control it and later crush it they had to lead it; and there is more than an element of truth in this. By channeling the mass anger against US imperialism and the new capitalist ruling class around the Shah into the backward blind alley of an anti-Western and anti-infidel ideology their own true reactionary class nature was well hidden from the masses. But the true reasons for this apparent contradiction lies at the specific character of the Iranian ruling class and the changes it underwent after the Shah's White Revolution.
It can be said that the revolts of the urban poor in 1976 and their many clashes with the military forces were the first signs of the onset of the revolutionary crisis in Iran. The fundamental feature of the Iranian revolution which makes it distinct from any other is the fact that less than a year after these first signs, say as early as 1977, in contradistinction to the progressive revolutionary masses combining workers, poor peasants, the shanty town dwellers, students, young women, and major sections of the national minorities, all demanding justice, freedom and independence in various combinations and degrees, there also appeared other "Islamic" masses well organised and led by a faction within the Shiite hierarchy in coalition with a powerful group of the bazaari merchants. This block consisting of a loose coalition of various religious bourgeois political currents from liberal Islamic to fundamentalists, had mass support within the traditional sections of the numerically significant urban and rural petty bourgeoisie and through its various religious networks and charity foundations linked to the local mosque could also mobilize support amongst the poor and the lumpen proletariat.
Soon this second force proved to be more powerful than the revolutionary masses. Indeed, if the leadership of this faction could have had its own way, there would not have been any revolution at all. It had already set up the secret Council of the Islamic Revolution that had successfully negotiated a transition of power from above with both the US masters of the Shah and the internal Royal Army and Security Forces. The insurrection took place because the commanders of the Royal Guard did not abide by this agreement and mobilised their units to crush the pro-revolution Air Force Barracks in the capital Tehran. In reaction to this attack, the air force technicians opened the arsenals to the population which led to an armed insurrection few hours later. The block which took power the next morning, not only saved the bourgeois state from an almost certain destruction but also hugely strengthened the reactionary forces by the addition of a multitude of new and permanently mobilised paramilitary groups like the Guardian Army of the Islamic Revolution (pasdaran) or the Mobilisation Corps (basij). It soon disarmed and crushed the revolutionary mass movement and beheaded its leadership. At first it collaborated with the liberal sections of the anti-shah bourgeois opposition but as soon as it had consolidated its own base it pushed all other factions out of positions of power and openly established a theocratic Islamic regime. This same block still rules Iran.
The reactionary content of its opposition to the Shah becomes clear when you briefly look back into the history of this conflict. Let us start with the clergy. The so-called Shiite hierarchy was historically a well-established part of the traditional despotic Asiatic State in Iran since the 17th century. It controlled amongst other things, education and the judiciary and it had its own extensive land holdings and its own source of taxation of the population enforced by armed gangs of collectors. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries a powerful faction within this hierarchy began to openly engage in politics and oppose bourgeois reforms of the state. You could say, they were the ideological grand parents of Khomeini. Amongst them were some of the most reactionary mullahs of the period. Some were openly associated with both the Russian and British imperialism. This group became very agitated against Mozaffaredin Shah (1853-1907) and vehemently opposed the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-06. Their now famous slogan was: No to constitutional legitimacy! Yes to Islamic legitimacy! In a way very similar to what happened in the 1979 revolution. They opposed the revolution because they were reactionaries and they opposed the ruling reaction because they were that part of the old reaction, which was being threatened with replacement by a new, more modern, or more bourgeois looking reaction. You could say similar to what took place in the catholic church with the break up into factions opposing or aligning with the new capitalist relations, a similar breakup was taking place inside the Shiite hierarchy. Alongside mullahs supporting constitutional reforms there were the fundamentalist who wanted more Islamic rule. Typical enough, British imperialism had agents in both camps.
Thus, the ideological forbearers of Khomeini were against the whole concept of citizenship or the right to vote and considered democracy to be a Western corruption designed by Infidels to destroy Islam. Although after the victory of the Constitutional Revolution, the leaders of this faction were hanged in front of the new parliament, the defeat of that revolution few years later strengthened this faction at the expense of the more progressive section. After the Russian revolution, the interests of British imperialism were better served by a centralized nation sate built from above, which could stand up against the Bolshevik threat. The establishment of Reza Shah and his state reforms brought this faction into direct conflict with the state. The fact that both Reza Shah and his son were Western backed gave this reactionary faction a new lease of political life. And also the fact that the progressive faction had either disappeared or been tainted as it had become part of the new Western state. This gave it enough muscle to threaten the whole hierarchy.
The last blow for this institution of the Asiatic State was the last Shah's so-called "White Revolution" which drastically undermined its role and prestige in Iranian society. The reactionary faction became so vocal that the leadership of the of the entire Shiite hierarchy had to give it lip service. In particular, they opposed the Shah's land reform as they were themselves one of the biggest land owners in Iran, they opposed the local government reforms as this undermined their local power base in the provinces and they were against the vote for women because it undermined their very ideological authority. Khomeini who led the revolt against the Shah's reforms was already a known figure within the Islamic circles before the CIA coup of 1952 which overthrew Mossadegh's government and brought back the Shah. He was already airing opposition to the "Western infidels" and had already published his essay, The Islamic Government. Simply because the hierarchy as a whole betrayed Mosaddegh and swung in defence of the coup, he remained quiet. The White Revolution gave him the chance to swing the hierarchy in favor of his own faction.
The second part of the block, the big bazarri merchant were also part of the ruling class for well over a century. At the time of the Shah's White Revolution they had complete stranglehold on the Iranian private economy. And do not think for a minute that this some how represented the Iranian version of the so-called national bourgeoisie. You could not get more comprador than them. This layer which traditionally had very close ties with the Shiite hierarchy willingly supported the 1952 coup. It was however fundamentally threatened by the Shah's proposed reforms. At the core of the Shah's "revolution" was the attempt at a limited industrialisation based on the production of consumer goods for the home market under license from foreign companies. This directly attacked the interests of the merchant layers. The government had already introduced import tariffs to curtail their activities. The new group of "industrial" capitalists which grew around the royal court gradually pushed the traditional section out of the ruling class and established its own hegemony over the Iranian economy. Although the bazari merchants still had access to enormous wealth and capital they had been turned into second-class citizens within their "own" bourgeois state. From then on they acted as the bankers for the reactionary faction inside the Shiite hierarchy.
As mentioned above, we had already seen this coalition in action against the Shah seventeen years before the 1979 revolution when they mobilised their base against the Shah's reforms. This movement was crushed by the Shah and its leaders (including Khomeini) forced into exile. When in 1976 the first signs of the structural crisis of Iranian capitalism became apparent, this coalition once again moved into action. In the absence of any other organised opposition during the Shah's dictatorship and in a situation in which both bourgeois nationalist forces under the National Front umbrella and the pro Soviet left led by the Tudeh Party had already proven their bankruptcy, the Shiite hierarchy with its huge network of mosques and well financed by the bazaari merchants soon took over the leadership of the protest movement and announced its own slogans and aspirations as the demands of the revolution itself.
The capitalist class, both nationally and internationally, immediately recognized and since then have supported this counter-revolution in so far as it had no other alternative for saving the bourgeois state. But this is in no way a normal capitalist regime. In a normal capitalist regime you probably expect two capitalists with equal amount of capital to get the same average rate of return. In the Islamic republic, however, one may loose his head whilst the other gets 10 times the average without even risking any capital! In the long run this regime has to change itself in accordance with the needs of the bourgeois state it is protecting. It is a paradox that probably only US Neocons can appreciate how far the Iranian regime has carried out its privatization policy. The only difference is that here they say we do it in our own Islamic way, i.e., as long as we are kept in power. The mafia like groups which have divided the national kitty among themselves are clinging to power at all costs. As the Iranian saying goes, you never get anything back from a mullah. The Shiite hierarchy is not like a military junta which may one day realize its time has passed and has to hand over to a more normal form of rule. We have already seen three waves of reforms from within the regime which have all ended up with the reformers getting a slap in the face. The logic of all reforms calls for the withdrawal of the mullahs from positions of political power. As soon as this logic becomes clear the more fundamentalists organize a new backlash. And as this gets repeated the necessity for its revolutionary overthrow is also becoming more popular. Both Khamenehii and Bush know as the storms of a new revolution are gathering strength, the "nuclear crisis" can provide them with the cover for plunging Iranian society into a state of permanent military curfew.
Workers Left Unity Iran
First published on indymedia.ie