Revolution #173, August 16, 2009

From A World to Win News Service

Iran: Upsurge continues

There have been further developments since these articles were posted. On August 3, when the "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei put his seal of approval on the re-election of President Ahmadinejad, and again on August 5, when Ahmadinejad was formally sworn in, there were boycotts of the ceremonies by their opponents from within the regime (which is very unusual, perhaps unprecedented). There were also street protests outside, which were reportedly small and scattered, due mainly to the very heavy police and military presence and the ongoing repression against the regime's opponents. Meanwhile, there are reports of growing opposition to Ahmadinejad in rural Iran, previously one of the regime's strongest bases of support. (New York Times, August 4, 2009)

The U.S. is making new threats against Iran as part of the imperialists' ongoing efforts to contain and weaken Iran. The Obama administration is reportedly considering imposing "extreme" economic sanctions against Iran to cut off its imports of refined oil products, including gasoline. That would have a serious impact on both the rulers and the people of Iran. And it could trigger an escalating spiral of moves and counter moves: Iran has threatened to halt its oil exports and block ships from coming in and out of the Persian Gulf (through which 20 percent of the world's oil flows); if that happened, the U.S. would likely respond militarily.

For background on Iran see: "Roots of the Iranian Uprising: 'A Society Drowning in Corruption, Destruction, Superstition, Dark Religious Ignorance, Drug Addiction and Prostitution,'" by Larry Everest; "Response To Election Fraud Reveals Deep Schisms in Iranian Ruling Circle and Broad Based Profound Hatred of the Regime: UPRISING IN IRAN," by V.T.; and "An Assessment of the Momentum Towards War Between the United States and Iran: Causes and Potential Ramifications," Preliminary Findings by a Working Group.

August 3, 2009. A World to Win News Service. With their latest round of daring protests, a great many Iranians have clearly announced their refusal to return to business as usual. In fact, just the opposite. Judging by reports from various sources, the regime's efforts to crush the struggle have made many people determined to continue until the regime falls. "The lack of fear is palpable," one young woman put it in an e-mail.

On Thursday July 30, 40 days after the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan, Sohrab Araabi, Ashkan Sohrabi and dozens of other young demonstrators by the Iranian security forces on June 20, tens of thousands of people (40 thousand or more according to several reports) travelled by tube and car to Behesht-e Zahra, the major cemetery south of Tehran, using the Shia tradition of marking the fortieth day after a death to continue their protests against the Islamic regime and especially its "Supreme Leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In north and central Tehran, many thousands of youth gathered in most of the squares and main streets. There were reports of protests of large crowds in Vanak Square, Motahari Avenue, Beheshti Avenue, Northern Hafez Avenue, Vali Asr Avenue, Zartosht Avenue, Ferdousi Square, Fatemi Avenue and elsewhere. They chanted anti-regime slogans and clashed with the anti-riot police and plainclothes security forces. In other cities, including Isfahan, Shiraz, Ahwaz, Mashad and Rasht, people came out into the streets to use this occasion to protest against the regime. Many people from the provinces came to the capital that day.

A large crowd attempted to make their way to the Grand Mosala Mosque, the site where presidential candidate Mir-Hussein Mousavi had asked the authorities for a permit to hold a ceremony. The regime denied permission for a gathering there or anywhere else. These protestors were met by anti-riot police, and were scattered to all the streets around as far as Vali Asr Square.

In addition to protesters on the sidewalks and in the streets, other people showed their support in different ways. For example, in many different parts of Tehran and especially in the traffic jams, drivers honked their horns in simultaneous rhythm. Some got out of their cars and shouted, "Down with the dictator!" This drove the security forces mad, and they started to smash car windows and beat drivers and passengers, no matter if they were honking or not. As in previous demonstrations, there were numerous reports of neighborhood residents opening their doors to rescue people fleeing the police.

While the regime was too terrified to let people gather and did everything possible to scatter them into different parts of Tehran, the youth turned this to their advantage, spreading their protests over a much wider area before the security forces could get there. People are gaining more experience and using these experiences in their struggle. For example, many young people now cover their faces. Some young women have reversed the rules usually imposed on them, using scarves to keep their faces covered and their hair bare, walking with their shoulders and head held high. There were reports that many youth did not want to go to Mosala because it is an enclosed place, difficult to escape from if they were attacked by the uniformed or non-uniformed thugs. Secondly there are many closed circuit cameras there, and on top of that, because it is a mosque.

Everywhere that the protests were taking place in Tehran, including Behesht-e Zahra, the riot police clashed with protestors. At Behesht-e Zahra mothers locked hands to protect the crowd. In other places riot police beat protestors indiscriminately. They attacked with electric Taser guns, chains, whips and batons. Sometimes they fired paintball guns to mark people to be picked up later. They shot tear gas and pepper gas to scatter the demonstrators, who set fire to rubbish bins to counteract the effect. Some protestors believe these gases included chemicals that weaken and temporarily paralyse those exposed to them so as to allow the security forces to beat and arrest them. On at least two occasions captured by mobile phone cameras, security forces fired their guns directly at the people. However, so far no deaths have been reported. According to the regime—whose information is not reliable at all—50 (possibly more) people were arrested. Judging by what has happened to others before them, they may undergo severe torture.  

"Independence, freedom, Iranian Republic"

The protestors on Thursday continued to chant their usual slogans like "Down with the dictator," "Down with Khamenei," "Down with this lying government," and also "Our Neda (or Sohrab or…) is not dead, for us the government is dead."

But one new slogan protestors among one of the biggest crowds in Tehran on Thursday chanted with all their strength is particularly significant: "Independence, freedom, Iranian Republic." This is versus the slogan chanted during the 1979 revolution, "Independence, freedom and Islamic rule." What is the Iranian Republic? Maybe nobody knows exactly, or at least everyone might have their own understanding. But people agree that above all it is a rejection of the "Islamic Republic." This new slogan signals a stepping-up of the protestors' demands.

The importance of this slogan is not only its "anti-structural character" and rejection of the whole Islamic system. It is also an indication that control of this upsurge is slipping out of the hands of the so-called "Green wave" led by Mousavi, his fellow presidential candidate Mehdi Karoubi and others who have been core figures in the Islamic Republic. People have announced loudly they don’t want to be limited within the Islamic regime but want to go beyond that.

In what seems to be a reaction to the use of this slogan at the Thursday action, Mousavi hastily told Ghalam news August 1 that "the demand of the people is to defend the republican aspect of the system along with its Islamic aspect. The slogan is Islamic Republic, not a single word more or less." He was particularly worried since the pro-Mousavi slogans were less prevalent and the color green was rarely seen in these crowds. What many youth chanted and did was not what Mousavi and his faction in the regime wanted. Mousavi wanted people to go to Mosala and remain silent (his usual instructions for protests), using their voices only to read verses from the Koran or at most to chant Allah-u Akbar (god is great). People certainly did not want to stay quiet. Instead they wanted to chant their harshest slogan against the Islamic regime, and they did so.

Mousavi supporters spread the slogan "Allah-u Akbar" from the beginning of this movement. Many youth who didn’t agree or even did not believe in that chose to chant it for tactical reasons. But in recent days it is getting less and less strong. Some people argue that the slogan should be used to maintain unity, and others say that it keeps the regime thugs from arresting or harassing those who chant it. But none of those reasons apply any more. First of all, it cannot and did not unite the youth. Many simply do not believe in it anymore. They have seen that "Allah-u Akbar" is the main slogan of those who are beating, imprisoning, torturing and killing them –in other words, this is the slogan of those they are fighting against. So it is not really a slogan to unite and because of that many youth are reluctant to chant it. Secondly, it doesn't even work in terms of reducing the regime thugs' brutality. They have viciously attacked people who chant that slogan from their roofs.

Despite the efforts of Mousavi and his supporters to keep the protestors literally silent in the streets and politically within the framework of the Islamic republic, and despite the full insistence of the imperialist media widely watched in Iran, including BBC and Voice of America, that the protesters are supporters of Mousavi and the uprising is about their uncounted votes, many people have already travelled much further. There is hardly any talk about Mousavi and much less about the votes among the protestors. They are increasingly targeting the Islamic Republic itself.

What is the significance of Thursday's protest?

What is equally important about the Thursday protest is that despite the regime' s brutality and the acts of terror committed in the medieval prisons, the people have not been intimidated or discouraged. This clearly shocked the regime itself.

For many people, Thursday's protest was going to be a barometer to measure how effective the regime had been in dampening resistance. The answer is that the regime has failed. The movement still has a long way to go and what will happen depends on many different factors, most crucially the goals and vision that come to lead it. Will one or another regime faction (or another bourgeois, imperialist-dependent force) be able to maintain its grip over the people's movement, or instead will the movement see the emergence of a radical leading force that can lead people to break free of that grip and fight through the twists and turns of a complex and tortuous path in a completely different direction—toward the establishment of a revolutionary New Democratic (anti-imperialist and anti-feudal) state that can open the door to an independent and socialist Iran as a bastion of the world revolution? What is clear is that the movement has shown a real strength rooted in an acute and intense contradiction between the reactionaries and the people, after 30 years of brutality, repression, suppression and exploitation.

The brutality of the regime and the perseverance of the protestors are drawing more sections of the people into the movement and the ruling faction of the regime is becoming increasingly isolated. For example, on Thursday morning security forces arrested a group of artists and filmmakers on their way to pay their respects to the martyred at the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery. Among them was the internationally-known director Jafar Panahi who made the films White Balloon, The Circle and Offside.

What strengthens this view is that there are signs of deep cracks within the ruling faction itself. The influence of the "leader" Khamenei is weakening within the leading Shia circles in Iran and in particular Qom, one of Shia Islam's main religious centres. Various grand ayatollahs and other religious authorities such as Ayatollahs Sanei, Mousavi Ardabili, Montazeri and others have either condemned the regime or warned it against further brutalisation of protestors and prisoners. They are particularly worried about the fate of the Islamic Republic, mindful that the Shah’s brutality cost him his throne and brought his dynasty to an abrupt end 30 years ago.

Even worse for the ruling faction, it is going through an internal crisis. This crisis emerged when Ahmadinejad appointed Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, who had earlier made a much-criticized comment about friendship between the Iranian people and the "Israeli people," as his first vice president, the man in charge in the president's absence. This appointment triggered an angry response within Ahmadinejad's own cabinet and, reportedly, the resignation of several cabinet members, although only one resignation has been confirmed. Ahmadinejad did not accept any of these resignations because that would have brought the total number of departures to half of his current cabinet, and therefore he would have been constitutionally required to seek a vote of confidence in parliament, where he faces opposition. He even resisted an instruction by the "Supreme Leader" to remove Mashaei for his and the regime's own good. This provoked more criticism of Ahmadinejad from within his own faction, including by Friday prayer imams, the extremely pro-regime cleric Ahmad Khatami and many conservative members of parliament.

The eruption of these differences was so untimely for the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad faction that some observers believed this was a show in order to divert people's attention from what is going on in the country. This is one possibility, but it is more likely that there are real differences and contradictions among them.Theimpact of the people's struggle has the potential to provoke a crisis among them. The failure of their plans and the ineffectiveness of their extreme brutality could be reflected in different ways. As the movement gets stronger, such differences and much deeper crisis are hard to avoid. As a secondary cause other forces are exerting themselves. Members of the other faction of the regime that includes people like the very powerful Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former president Mohammed Khatami are not sitting idle. They are actively fighting to win over more people in the ruling power, and even within the ruling faction. So there are some people within the Khamenei faction who are under pressure and cannot just go along with whatever Ahmadinejad is doing.

The imperialist powers have been trying to influence developments in Iran in various ways. They are watching the situation closely and as the situation intensifies they will become even more directly involved. One of the things they are most sensitive to is the path that movement might take. The radicalization of the movement and the emergence of a revolutionary force that would be strong enough to lead the movement would be their main concern.

The future development of the struggle depends on several factors but what is certain is that the people have so far shown a remarkable determination to continue their struggle and they have paid a high price for that. They have already inflicted irreparable damage on the Islamic regime. The legitimacy of its president has evaporated, the power and influence of its leader has shrunk tremendously, the legitimacy of a religious regime is under a question mark for growing numbers of people, the unity among its various gangs is being torn apart, and it is ever more hateful among the masses. The genie is out of the bottle, and it will not be easy to stuff it back.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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