On February 11, the 31st Anniversary of the “Islamic Revolution”, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressed a crowd of his supporters in the capital, Tehran. This official rally for the anniversary of the 1979 revolution that established Iran’s Islamic Republic took place amid heavy security measures across the whole city on the day in order to snuff out the opposition’s counter demonstrations.
Confrontations took place in several parts of Tehran, where police, the Pasdaran, the Basij and plain-clothes agents, clashed with opposition supporters (mainly youth) trying to mount counter demonstrations to push their democratic demands. Police clashed with protesters at several locations around Tehran. Dozens of hard-liners with batons and pepper spray attacked the convoy of a senior opposition leader, Mehdi Karroubi, forcing him to turn back as he tried to join the protests. At the same time Ahmadinejad announced in a speech that Iran had already produced its first stock of uranium enriched to 20 per cent fuel, in defiance of the West.
Under the present political climate, a few points can be highlighted:
Firstly, the instability of the regime
There is no doubt that the internal political conflict of the regime, on the one hand, and the persistence of the movement of the opposition, on the other, has made this regime very weak, unstable and vulnerable. In fact, the regime’s instruments of repression had planned and orchestrated the anniversary of the revolution well in advance. During the past few weeks, in preparation for the anniversary, they had arrested hundreds of independent and opposition journalists. They banned most of the independent press, weblogs and eventually cut all mobile and SMS services and most of internet service providers prior to the day, to reduce the communication and organisational ability of the opposition and limit the spread of news to the international press. During that time, they also mobilised their so-called supporters by announcing a few days’ national holiday for schools and government administration centres and then provided buses, food and other means of transport to bring anyone they could get hold of to Azadi (Freedom) Square to listen to Ahmadinejad.
It seems obvious that a stable and strong regime would not act in this way. Only a weak and frightened regime, one with a deep political crisis, would go to such extremes of repression – including executing youths arrested on Ashura – to celebrate the 31st anniversary of its own revolution.
Secondly, the status of the ‘reformist’ opposition
The February 11 demonstrations, in comparison to demonstration on Ashura, December 27, 2009, were a clear setback for the ‘reformists’. Last month’s demonstration was more organised and the masses even went on the offensive against the repressive forces. While on February 11, 2010 the demonstrators were much fewer (which is understandable in light of the orchestrated repression against the opposition), but also there was a clear absence of the leadership of the ‘reformists’ in the demonstration. Mehdi Karroubi announced publically the exact location and time when he would march towards Azadi Square. The security forces therefore returned him home only few minutes after he went out on the street. Mir Hossein Mousavi, like previous times, was detained at home by the security forces, before even coming out on to the street. So the two main leaders who had called the demonstration were not only absent but had not organised the masses for any participation on this crucial day. Some of the youth, on their own initiative, carried green flags (the symbol of ‘reformists’); others carried flags of the Islamic Republic which made them look like Ahmadinejad’s supporters. This lack of interest on the part of the leaders of the ‘reformists’ was surely a decisive reason for the setback. Karroubi and Mousavi have tried to negotiate and reach some agreement with the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime rather than mobilise the masses independently to achieve their democratic rights.
Thirdly, the character of the mass youth movement
The 31st anniversary demonstration on February 11 was officially called by the ‘reformist’ leaders and failed to achieve its aims. But the Ashura demonstration on December 27, 2009, which has been the most violent one up to now, was not called by the ‘reformist’ leaders: it was organised spontaneously by the youth. This trend was seen right from the beginning of the uprising. On Monday June 15, 2009, the second time there were mass demonstrations, the youth forced the leaders to follow them into the streets. In fact Mousavi (the ‘reformist’ leader) had cancelled the street rally and the youth, going against his will, came to the streets and forced him to come to the rally.
For the hundreds of thousands of the youth who have been in the streets of Iran in recent months, it is not important who their leaders are. What is important is how they can progress with their demands to achieve their final aims. In fact, what they are doing is using the present leaders to achieve their ends. So the present leader can be changed if he resists or acts contrary to the trend of the movement.
It is clear that for the aims of the movement to be achieved successfully, we will have to see a trend towards a new leadership within the youth who are not only in opposition to the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime but also to the leaders of the ‘reformists’. This trend will become clearer, as the ‘reformist’ leaders collaborate more and more with the regime.
Fourthly, the absence of workers
The leading workers’ organisations boycotted the presidential election of June 12, 2009. But they have, incorrectly, continued with the same line towards the mass protests that have erupted since then. Up to now they have treated this as merely a fight between the two tendencies within the regime and they have stood on the sidelines for the regime to become weaker as a result of the infighting and splits. But they have totally miscalculated the role of the independent youth in the streets. The youth now need a leadership. The workers are their only ally and could, at any time, lead the youth through organising a series of strikes.
In fact, the working class has been passive during the past few months, and has in practice boycotted the youth movement. But this will not continue for long, as workers have gained a great deal of experience during the past decade and are fully aware of the nature of the present regime. During that time they have consistently been the most active and radical class or section in society: occupying factories, calling for “general anti-capitalist united action” and so on. In fact the only hope of an upheaval which would lead to the fall of the regime and achieving a fundamental change in society depends on the workers’ participation in the movement.
Those organisations that assume that a “revolution” has begun in Iran – without the full participation of the working class – are making a mistake. This mistake has two aspects: firstly, it reflects their underestimation of the central role of the working class in a revolution and, secondly, it means that they will be unable to assess the best tactics based on the concrete facts of the current revolutionary situation as it develops.
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This post was written by Maziar Razi