Arrests, Torture, Murders, Disappearances and Secret Burials: the Fundamentalist Religious Regime Uses an Iron Fist to Keep itself on its Feet
(«communist program»; Nr. 9; May 2023)
Demonstrations and struggles against the Ayatollahs’ regime, which have been taking place in waves, have characterized the last two decades, a period when the pressure of a relatively young capitalism to rapidly develop has further exacerbated the contradictions in a country that is striving hard to break away from the religious traditions with which the new Iranian bourgeoisie had established itself to the detriment of the old regime of the Shah, thanks to massive demonstrations and large-scale workers’ strikes against the Shah. A capitalism that is developing cannot but increase ever more the mass of the toilers, the proletariat, from whose intense exploitation it extracts all the wealth it produces.
On the other hand, the development of capitalism can only continue with the intensification of international trade, and therefore with the most modern means of communication (radio, television, internet) and education, which are necessary for the development not only of trade, but also of industrial production in all sectors (petrochemical, steel, automotive, metallurgical, machinery, textiles) and especially in engineering and nuclear power.
An idea of what Iran looks like today, which on the other hand is subjected to rather harsh sanctions by the US and its Western allies, can be gained from a few figures. 75% of the population lives in cities, but 30% of the population still lives on agriculture on land that is only 10% cultivated (mainly pistachios and cotton, of which it is an exporter to the whole world, as well as cereals, barley, tobacco, beet, sugar cane) and livestock farming (cattle, sheep and goats); on the other hand, the country is still characterised by a considerable fragmentation of land ownership. The economically active population (2021 data) is 26.5 million people (of which the female workforce accounts for only 17%), representing 32% of the total population, and unemployment in 2019 was no less than 20% (more than 5 million people). The economic and social crisis hits, as in any country, mainly the working and poor classes (inflation seems to have reached 50%), and the increasingly oppressive conditions imposed by the clerical regime, first of Khomeini and then of Khamenei, have a direct impact on the younger generations and especially on women. Most of the productive activities are controlled by religious foundations (bonyad) and the army Iranian Revolutionary Guards (päsdärän), so it is inevitably women who suffer the harshest and most brutal oppression, especially if they rebel, as has happened since last September.
And while young Iranian women and workers striking in solidarity show the world that they are fighting and rebelling against the social oppression that characterises not only Iran but all modern societies, whether democratic, totalitarian, religious or otherwise, without fear of repercussions, the proletarians of the opulent European West look on as if what is happening there does not concern them. They look at their own navel, at their own narrow immediate interests, as if there were insurmountable walls separating their lives from those of the proletarians in the countries on the periphery of imperialism. As if every bourgeoisie in the West were not also responsible for the living conditions of proletarians in every other country in the world; a world which the imperialist bourgeoisies divided up during the Second World War and which they are now trying to re-divide – by warring among themselves, and not only in Ukraine – on a different basis from that established in previous decades.
The Iranian regime’s social policy is partly trying to resemble that of Western countries, naturally with much more limited financial resources. Successive presidents of the Republic have periodically tried to keep social tensions under control by reducing the prices of basic necessities and providing subsidies to the poorest strata of the population. But these means, as we know, are never decisive, and when the economy gets stuck and goes into crisis, with millions of people unable to find work and inflation rapidly reducing the purchasing power of the masses, then the tensions that have been simmering beneath the surface explode. The most recent phenomenon we are witnessing is the rebellion against the atmosphere of social oppression by women in particular, specifically young women, who were later joined by young men, starting with university students.
On 13 September, as everyone already knows, Mahsa Jina Amini, a 22-year-old young Kurdish woman, was arrested for violating a regulation on the wearing of the head veil imposed on women. It took three days from her arrest to her torture and murder. The fact that she was Kurdish has probably had an additional negative impact, because the Kurdish population in general is systematically oppressed, not only by Iranians, but also by Turks, Iraqis and Syrians. This episode was the fuse that set off a storm in Iran; since September and up to the present day, albeit in a weakening phase, the protest demonstrations have continued unabated, and it is no coincidence that the heart of these demonstrations has always been women, especially young women. The demonstrations have reached more than 160 cities and more than 20 000 people have been arrested so far; there have been more than 500 deaths in the demonstrations so far (and no more than 62 among the police, it seems); the death sentences that have already been carried out have, as far as we know, hit 10 of the arrested protesters (1). The religious regime has reacted to these protests with extremely harsh repression, in the face of which the courage of young women has emerged, who, despite knowing that they were at risk of arrest, beatings and death, have continued to express an indomitable spirit of rebellion. And it is this rebellious spirit that the regime in Tehran is afraid of, because it can be very contagious and can engulf the working class in particular.
Following the murder of Mahsa Amini, there were reports on 13 October of a crackdown by security forces on the “Shahed” girls’ high school in Ardabil, inhabited mostly by Azeris – another Sunni ethnic minority disliked by Shia Iranians – because a group of female students refused to sing a hymn praising the Ayatollah; 16-year-old Asra Panahi died as a result of beatings by security forces and many other injured female students ended up in hospital (2). The regime has responded with extreme violence against the defenceless masses, even to the extent of sentencing to death the disabled, pregnant women and minors (3), no matter whether they set fire to a car tyre, a picture of Khomeini or the veil (the hijab, which covers the hair, forehead, ears and nape and falls over the shoulders), or whether they cut their hair in public.
But there is actually much more behind these protests. The dire economic situation has for years seriously plagued the livelihoods of the broad masses, so much so that every protest ranges from rebellion against strict religious regulations, to the imprisonment of most women between the four walls of the home, the suffocating control by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) and pro-government militias (Basij) in the streets, schools and universities, has the character of a virus that continues to spread in all other sectors of society, from market traders to factory workers. It is no coincidence that the protests first broke out in Iranian Kurdistan, where Mahsa Amini comes from, and from there they spread throughout the country, from north to south, and even involved Qom, the Shi’ite spiritual centre, the bastion of moral and religious authority of the Islamic regime. The demands concern personal freedoms, civil rights, freedom of assembly and organization, and alongside these are more specific workers’ demands concerning the freedom to organize independent unions, as well as classical economic demands concerning wages and working conditions. Everything is called into question, and when cries of “death to the dictator” are heard in the streets from the demonstrating masses, cries addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei, from the masses who also receive solidarity in workers’ strikes, it is clear that the regime takes these cries as an excuse to accuse every protest of waging a “war against God” and of being in the service of the West’s enemies.
Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, Iran has been shaken several times by large-scale protest movements: in 1999, Tehran university students rebelled against the closure of the reformist Salaam newspaper and against the crackdown by members of the Pasdaran, the “Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution” (literal translation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Farsi) on the university campus, in which three students were killed; further protests by university students took place in 2003 and 2006. In 2009, at the time of the presidential elections, the protests against electoral fraud that brought former Tehran mayor Ahmadinejad to the presidency under Supreme Leader Khamenei were characterized by the discontent of the petty bourgeoisie, who hoped that their interests would be better protected by the reformist President Rouhani. Between December 2017 and June 2018, by contrast, the protagonists were not only students and ordinary people who demonstrated against the high cost of living, the suffocating clerical regime and youth unemployment, which reached 40 per cent, and for women’s rights, but also workers’ strikes. Strikes that fought against the consequences of the economic crisis that had hit the country, a crisis that was aggravated by the fact that the Rouhani government, following the harsh US sanctions (and, gradually, also those of the US’s European allies), had imposed crackdown on wages and made working conditions more difficult. These sanctions were decided by Trump after he broke the nuclear agreement with Tehran, signed by Obama in 2015 (4). In 2019, another protest movement broke out, triggered by the excessive increase in fuel prices, in which very large sections of traders participated. The power of the mullahs (Muslim clerics), which relies not only on historical religious influence, but also and above all on the economic power that is largely concentrated in their hands, and the military power that results from it, has always responded with harsh repression. How many decades can such a power, which relies in its domination of society on the systematic suppression of any protest, last?
Increasingly broader strata of the population, the urban bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, peasants, workers, are constantly being tormented by the effects of the economic and social crisis as well as the blows of repression. In this situation, given the trade and communication contacts with the world, there is almost a natural urge to get rid of the trappings and restrictions that the fundamentalist social climate has imposed for decades. And given the worldwide ideological influence of conceptions of democracy permanently disseminated with “free trade”, free “private property” and “personal freedom”, it is obvious that popular protest movements generally claim freedom and entrust themselves to reformism – even when dressed in religious garb – as the key to solving social problems.
Many commentators on the demonstrations of recent months argue that they are different from those of the past because, although they were triggered by a specific event – the brutal murder of a twenty-two-year-old girl for reasons of no great significance – in fact, all strata of the population and the whole country quickly became involved, something that had not happened before. Nevertheless, the wish of the major media and the vast majority of Western intellectuals is that these protest movements, which have become so widespread and in which a large part of the population has become involved, should resemble the movements that in 2011 in Tunisia and then in all Arab countries brought down the major dictators such as Ben Ali and Mubarak, opening the door of the country to the longed-for democracy (5)... and to Western capital. A democracy which, as we easily predicted, did not solve any social problems, because “bourgeois democracy cannot but re-propose the prospect of a bourgeois regime that should transform its repressive attitude by expanding the spaces of ‘freedom’ in everyday life and by granting some sort of social reforms that would in no way undermine profit-oriented capitalist production; bourgeois democracy is nothing but the parliamentary and electoral guise of the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. It is this in a more cultivated form in the older capitalist countries, it is this in a cruder form in the newer capitalist countries, but in reality it can never give the working masses any other prospect than that of greater exploitation, greater misery, greater hunger and greater repression.” (6) Just look at what happened not only in Tunisia after the fall of Ben Ali, but also in Egypt, where al-Sisi is undoubtedly no better than Mubarak, and in Libya, which is divided between three or four local potentates who are acting as repressive and bloody as Gaddafi, if not even more so, or in Lebanon, a country completely destroyed by feuds between clans in the service of various regional powers sold out to this or that imperialism, or in Algeria, where the bourgeois regime is more solid but no less exploitative and repressive than the other bourgeois regimes.
PROLETARIAT AND THE PROTEST MOVEMENT
One of the characteristics of this latest wave of protest demonstrations concerns workers, and especially workers in the energy sector. Although they are treated better than workers in other sectors of the economy, and although they are not organized in independent national unions, which are banned (just as independent political parties are banned by the current government), in October “oil workers in Assaluyeh in Bushehr province” went on strike, and in the following weeks, from late October to mid-November, “teachers and workers began to organize sit-ins and local strikes in Tehran, Isfahan, Abadan and other places in Iranian Kurdistan” (7).
On 17 December, workers went on strike again in several cities, “including Assaluyeh, Mahshahr, Ahvaz and Gachsaran”, and were joined by “oil sector firefighters on Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf” (8). This was not a national strike in the true sense of the word, but it was so large compared to previous strikes that it prompted the organizing committees to propose again a further three-day strike a week later (24, 25 and 26 December). These strikes, like the previous ones, are organized by local committees and union activists who are in contact with each other through social media, and usually involve precarious workers, temporary workers and day labourers. Even inmates in Karaj prison rioted after one of them was taken to death row and awaiting hanging. The workers’ protest, although fragmented and generally disconnected at the national level, stems from particularly difficult economic conditions, not just from today. Ninety per cent of contracts are fixed-term, so the general precariousness prevails; moreover, labour relations are mediated by state-controlled employment agencies, while the regime is increasing the salaries of police and armed forces by up to 20 % (9). However, once a certain threshold of tolerance has been exceeded, the pressure from below is such that, despite the various waves of repression against strikers over the last few years, initiatives to organize independent union organizations have continued to take place, as in the case of the bus drivers at Sherkat-e Vahed in Tehran or the workers at the Haft Tapeh sugar factory in Iran’s Khuzestan (10). And given the general atmosphere of social repression, protests against the repression of street demonstrations, women’s demonstrations and against executions also emerged during the workers’ strikes.
From the point of view of the living and working conditions of the workers, the very history of the relations between the working class and the bourgeois class teaches us that workers, even in a country where their independent organization is forbidden, sooner or later manage to organize themselves, and that it is the movement of struggle itself, with its strong pressure that can achieve a positive result, namely union organization, not only at the level of the category but also at the national level. The bourgeoisie also knows this very well, and this is why, especially after the Second World Imperialist War – in line with the experience of fascism and Nazism – it has supported and financed the formation of collaborationist unions, unions institutionalised in the state. The bourgeoisie is aware that in order to avoid their social proletarian power organizing itself and standing on the ground of open class struggle with its own and revolutionary aims, the workers must be organized by the bourgeoisie itself, naturally using means and methods that correspond to the defense of its general interests. There are basically two ways to achieve this: the democratic way and the openly totalitarian (fascist, militarist, fundamentalist) way. In the democratic way, the bourgeoisie tries to achieve collaboration between the classes with the active participation of the working masses; the illusion of democracy (with its tail of electoralism, parliamentarism, freedom of organization and assembly, etc.) in fact leads the proletarian masses to believe that they can achieveby democratic means, an improvement in their living and working conditions without having to struggle systematically, but by virtue of the law, through “dialogue between the social partners” and “negotiation”. In the way of open dictatorship, which is generally established through the democratic method and in the face of a strong mass movement tending to overthrow the existing institutions, the bourgeoisie, in order to win the collaboration of the working class – after having repressed and shackled it in compulsory social and political structures beneficial to the ruling class – must provide certain guarantees (those famous social shock absorbers) in the economic field (which is the basis of life). Obviously, the richer, more powerful and more dominant a country is in the international market, the more resources it can allocate to satisfy the basic needs of life of the broad masses, precisely thanks to these social shock absorbers; the weaker it is economically and in international relations compared to its competitors, the fewer resources it has at its disposal, and therefore it tends to favour workers in economic sectors considered strategic (energy, armaments, armed forces), a practice that in turn has long been practiced in the richest countries. This is happening in Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Brazil and dozens of other countries. However, when it comes to repressing movements that escape the control of the ruling bourgeoisie, the democratically run state and the dictatorially run state use exactly the same means and methods (police forces, specially organized militias, the army), differing only in the justification for the use of these means and methods: in the first case against subversion and terrorism, in the second case against attacks on national sovereignty by foreign powers, if not outright to eliminate those waging a “war against God”.
In our statement of 25. September 2022 (11) we wrote: “Bourgeois power can change its method of social management if the mass mobilizations – as was the case in the famous ‘Arab springs’ – are so massive that they endanger its hold; but it will not change until it experiences all the forms of repression at its disposal, even the bloodiest ones ; and in any case, it will always tend to throw out of the throne the figure that no longer has the charisma of yesteryear and replace him with other representatives, perhaps even democratically elected, so as to carry out a changing of the guard, in order to keep the political, economic and social power The Egypt of Mubarak first, and then of Al Sisi, is a demonstration of this.”
As for the proletarian masses, if they continue their struggles and strikes and coordinate them at the national level, they will become, overtly, the main target of state repression, because they will be accused of endangering the country’s economy and aiding foreign attacks on its “stability”. The workers’ struggle at this point will either take the direction of independent organization, starting from the sphere of the immediate defence of economic conditions as well as the struggle itself, or it will be stifled for the umpteenth time by being channelled into the labyrinths of local and sectoral bargaining, isolated and fragmented after eventually allowing categories considered specifically strategic – such as the oil and gas industry – to organize themselves according to the rules laid down by law and in any case within the traditional limits of defending the national economy. Proletarians cannot hope that the bourgeois ruling class – whether it wears religious or secular garb – will completely change its ways. Already during the great movements of 1978–1979, the massive demonstrations and general strikes that overthrew the Shah’s power, popular and working-class Iran believed and hoped that, thanks to a religious bourgeoisie, its general position would improve and that the economic “wealth” derived from the large quantities of exported oil could be distributed among all strata of the population. The Shah’s regime, certainly pro-Western and in any case repressive, was replaced by the religious regime of first Khomeini and then Khamenei. The regime, not yet deeply entrenched, had already in 1980 thrown its best young men into the war against Iraq, which lasted for eight long years, to defend its “sacred frontiers”; into a war which, moreover, could have ended much sooner, given that in 1982 Iraq withdrew from the Shatt al-Arab areas it had invaded and unilaterally ceased fire, but was kept alive by Khomeini’s regime in order to launch a counter-attack aimed at Basra. But at the same time, the other objective was to break its proletariat, which had been reduced to a catastrophic state after so many years of war. Saddam Hussein’s regime was a warmongering one, Khomeini’s regime was also a warmongering one, and both were in complete agreement with the warmongering policies of the US and its mutual allies.
Thus, the perspective of the proletariat in Iran is either class-based or remains shaped by the interests of the ruling bourgeoisie, which even today protects itself behind Shia confessionalism, but which could one day, in the context of international power relations and under pressure from further large mass movements, change its coat and even adopt the symbols of Western democracy.
The proletarian class perspective is based on the defence of exclusive workers’ interests and is therefore opposed to bourgeois interests, both in the immediate and even more so in the general political field. The alternative to bourgeois domination, whether in religious or secular guise, can never be parliamentary democracy, but is and will be the path of class struggle, a struggle that aims at proletarian revolution. However difficult and remote this path may seem today, it is the only one that can lead the proletariat to become the protagonist of its own future, of its own history. The proletariat is the wage labour force which produces all the wealth in every country; the bourgeoisie is today the ruling class which appropriates all the wealth produced and can continue to do so on condition that it keeps the proletariat in wage slavery. It is against this slavery that the modern slaves, that is, the proletarians, must fight in Iran as in any other country, starting, of course, with the struggle for the defence of economic interests, but with the aim of extending it to the whole proletariat of the country and the proletarians of all other countries, with the aim of overthrowing bourgeois power and building on its ruins a new society, the society that will no longer depend on capital, market, money, violence and the dictatorship of imperialism.
(1) See www.ispionline.it//it/pubblicazione/5-grafici-capire-le-proteste-iran-36790 of 11 January 2023 and www.lifegate.it/condannati-morte-iran of 13 December 2022.
(2) See luce.lanazione.it/actualities/asra-panahi-16-years-beaten- to-death-not-sung-into-ayatollah/.
(3) See Tgcom24, 5 and 26 January 2023.
(4) See www.ispionline.it/ it/ pubblicazione- iran-la- stanchezza- di- una- rivoluzione-19393 of 6.1.2018; https:// ricerca.repubblica/ archivio/ repubblica/ 1999/07/11/ iran-studenti-in-rivolta-dopo-il-venerdi.html of 11.7 1999. See also Il Medio Oriente, arena degli scontri borghesi e imperialisti (Il comunista, No 154, July 2018); Iran: la collera operaia sfida la dittatura sanguinaria dei mollahs (Il comunista, No 155, September 2018).
(5) In Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, on 17 December 2010, police seized the fruit and vegetable cart of an unemployed young man “without street vendor’s licence”. In desperation, the unemployed young man, who had been deprived of the only means, albeit meagre, of supporting himself and his family, set himself on fire in front of the government building. He died the following 5 January. “It is the spark that ignites the dust,” we wrote in oue statement Viva la rivolta della gioventù proletaria!, of 11 January 2011. See also Rivolte nei paesi arabi e imperialismo, in the Supplement to “Il comunista”, No 119, April 2011.
(6) See Tunisi, Algeri, Il Cairo… “Il comunista” no. 119, Dec. 2010–Jan. 2011.
(7) www.rivistailmulino.it/a/iran-la-rivoluzione-dei-lavoratori of 8 December 2022.
(8) See www.radiondaurto.org/2022/12/17/iran-quarto-mese-di-rivolta-inizia-con-lo-sciopero-dei-lavoratori-dellindustria-petrolifera/
(9) See www.operaicontro.it/ 2022/ 12/ 13/ iran-la-forza-al-lavoro and www. operaicontro.it/ 2022/ 12/ 19/ iran-dalla-lotta-di-strada-agli-scioperi-operai/.
(10) See footnote 7.
(11) See Iran. Iran: from bread demonstrations to harsh protests after 22-year-old girl arrested, beaten and killed by religious police for not wearing her veil “according to the rules”, PCInt, 25 September 2022, www.pcint.org
January 31st, 2023
Il comunista - le prolétaire - el proletario - proletarian - programme communiste - el programa comunista - Communist Program