In the wake of the recent disputed election result, Iran has erupted in revolutionary convulsions. Millions have taken to the streets to protest against the election, in which president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed a sweeping victory. However this crisis unfolds in the coming weeks, it is distinctly possible that long-term changes will emerge.
Press censorship and restrictions on assemblies have not prevented news of this movement being broadcast. The youth especially have used Facebook and Twitter to organise their protests and publicise their cause and the repression being used against them. Another striking feature of this movement and the build up to the elections has been the emergence of young women into the arena of struggle – unprecedented in recent times. Educated and cultured layers of the youth have been seething with discontent at the suffocating, repressive nature of this theocratic regime, which has denied choice in dress, music, personal relations and communication. Important as these factors are, this movement surpasses them, demanding all democratic rights and reflecting a desire for change. This is reflected by the widespread participation and support for the movement which exists amongst older sections of the population.
The election for the presidency took place on 12 June 2009, which declared Ahmadinejad the winner, with 63 percent to Moussavi’s 34 percent. All three opposition candidates have claimed that the votes were manipulated and the election was rigged, and candidates Mohsen Rezaee and Mousavi lodged official complaints. On Monday, a crowd that the mayor of Tehran estimated at three million rallied for the first of four days, On the 19th of June, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, sternly cut off any compromise over the nation’s disputed elections. In a long and hard-line sermon, he declared the elections valid and warned of violence if demonstrations continue.
The current mass public dissatisfaction is also a product of the accumulated frustration and disappointment among big sections of the population during the last few years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency. He was elected in 2005 and has maintained an important base of support, especially amongst some sections of the poor and in rural areas. Even in this election, there appears to have been a certain split between the larger urban areas and the rural areas. However, the International Herald Tribune, for example, has carried a report from one small village near the south-western city of Shiraz, which claims the majority of the village’s 850 voters backed the opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi only to find that the reverse was declared at the count. Moreover, Iran now has massive urban centres where most of the population now live, with important family links remaining with the countryside.
Ahmadinejad’s support amongst the poor was built upon a reactionary populist basis, denouncing corruption, the rich liberal elite and a strident nationalist policy which denounced western and especially US imperialism. During the 2005 election, he took up one of the slogans of the 1979 revolution, “a republic of the poor”. Following the revolution, important sections of the economy were taken into state hands. But rather than a republic for the poor, a republic of rich, corrupt oligarchs emerged. With rampant inflation reaching 30% and rising unemployment which stands at approximately 25% among under-thirties and the recent ending of subsidies on petrol and some food products, frustration and anger has increased in the recent period.
The recent political turmoil has revealed a major split within the ruling regime in Iran. This exists even within those forces supporting Ahmadinejad. The arrest of family members of former president Rafsanjani, indicate how deep the splits have gone amongst the ruling elite. The clash between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi also represents a division amongst the rulers. Mousavi promised reform of the existing system, greater economic liberalisation, reduced unemployment and “greater equality” for women, but all within the existing clerical theocratic regime. Yet this important and significant division has opened the door through which the masses have poured into the arena of struggle.
The determination of Ahmadinejad and his supporters to cling to power has forced the split between them still wider. The endorsement of Ahmadinejad by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and his demands for the protests to end or face greater repression, threaten to heighten the conflict and take it to new levels. Having begun with demands to reform the system, the movement now finds itself confronted with direct defiance of Khamenei, bringing it into collision with the entire theocratic state.
The eruption of the movement in Iran represents a turning point in the struggle of the masses. It remains to be seen if this crisis, with important elements of a revolutionary situation is more comparable with the Russian revolution in 1905 or that of 1917. The revolution in 1905 was defeated because it did not enjoy the support of the masses. The revolution in 1917 was supported by the masses, with the active support and involvement of the workers, peasantry and sections of the middle class. The unrest of 2009 may only be an anticipation of an even greater movement later. Should this be the case, even if the current regime hangs on for a period of time, the social crisis and antagonisms will remain and intensify and are certain to lead to further political upheavals.
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This post was written by Christopher Vasey