Revolution #193, February 21, 2010

Iran: It's Right to Rebel Against Reactionaries

Background to the Uprising

Iran's 1979 Revolution—A Just and Mighty Uprising Against a Hated Tyrant and Foreign Domination

This month marks the 31st anniversary of the 1978-1979 revolution in Iran. Millions of Iranians, from all walks of life, rose up to overthrow their king, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Shah was hated because he was a ruthless tyrant who enforced U.S. domination of Iran.

Iran is a large country located at one of the world's most central military and economic crossroads. It has vast oil resources. In 1953, the U.S. CIA put the Shah back in power to prevent Iranians from taking control of their oil and destiny. The U.S. organized the Shah's secret police—SAVAK—which he used to brutally suppress any opposition.  In 1976, Amnesty International reported that the Shah's regime had the "highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture which is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran." Revolutionaries and communists were especially targeted.

Under the Shah, Iran was built up to serve U.S. imperialist interests. It was a source of oil. Its economy was opened up to U.S. investment and trade and shaped to serve global capitalism. And the Shah spent billions turning Iran into a U.S.-directed military outpost. Foreign banks and corporations, and the Shah and a small clique of Iranian capitalists around him accumulated billions exploiting Iran's labor, markets, and resources. Yet tens of millions of Iranians remained locked in oppression and poverty. Millions of peasants were landless or forced to toil for bare existence. Many were driven into sprawling urban shantytowns without water, sewage, or electricity. Sixty percent of Iranians remained illiterate, life expectancy was 50 years, and 139 of every 1,000 children died in their first year. In the capital Tehran, modern Pepsi, Coke, and Canada Dry bottling plants were built while shanty dwellers were forced to drink from open sewers.

All this led millions of workers, peasants, women, students, intellectuals, and middle- as well as upper-class Iranians to grow to hate the Shah, and then get drawn into the revolution. The Shah tried to drown the uprising in blood, and thousands were attacked, beaten, even shot down in cold blood. But this backfired. It deepened people's hatred and contempt for the Shah and fueled the revolution that overthrew him.

The Revolution and Dreams of Liberation Are Hijacked by Islamic Theocrats

The people's dreams for liberation turned bitter when the revolution was hijacked by Islamic theocrats led by Ayatollah Khomeini. During the revolution, these clerics posed as opponents of tyranny and foreign domination. They claimed they represented the revolutionary people's highest aspirations—for liberation, political freedom, a better life, and an end to suffering.

In fact, these religious leaders opposed the Shah because they felt he was undermining Islam, traditional feudal social relations, and the role of the clergy by too closely linking Iran to the U.S. and foreign capital.  So they joined and worked to lead the revolution in order to reassert and strengthen Islam's grip on Iran by instituting Ayatollah Khomeini's vision of an Islamic theocracy ruled by clerics. Islam and Iran's Islamic clerical establishment and institutions have historically been key pillars of Iran's oppressive ruling structure. This is why they did not suffer the kind of vicious repression under the Shah that was the fate of radicals, revolutionary nationalists, communists, and others. So the religious forces around Khomeini came into the revolution with a lot of power, organization, and social influence. When it became clear the Shah's rule was crumbling, the U.S. and its allies saw Khomeini as their best chance for preserving U.S. influence and preventing the revolution from becoming more radical. There were revolutionary communist forces in Iran who were trying to lead the revolution in a liberating direction—including many students abroad who courageously dropped everything to return to Iran to join the struggle. However, these forces were unable to prevent the Khomeini forces from seizing power after the Shah's regime fell and then hijacking the revolution.

After the Shah's regime fell in February 1979, millions of Iranians wanted the revolution to continue. Yet after Khomeini and the clerics took over and founded the Islamic Republic of Iran, they moved to violently crush their opponents—especially radicals and communists—and monopolize all political power.  The new regime quickly re-imposed reactionary religious laws, ideology, and morality, especially the total subordination of women to men at every level of society. On March 8, 1979, tens of thousands of women and their supporters protested new laws forcing women to wear the veil. They were violently attacked by regime thugs and police. The new regime forcibly maintained the oppression of nationalities like the Kurds. While refusing to continue the Shah's role as a direct U.S. outpost in the region, the Islamic Republic did continue Iran's economic subordination to global capitalism overall.

The Islamic fundamentalist regime jailed tens of thousands of opponents. In the summer of 1988 alone, thousands of political prisoners, including many communists, were executed after trials lasting only a few minutes. To this day, the Islamic Republic remains a brutal and reactionary dictatorship that denies the Iranian people their most basic rights. "A religious autocracy replaced the despotic monarchy," the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) (CPI (MLM)) sums up.

The Current Uprising in Iran is a Just Struggle Against an Oppressive Theocracy

The largest anti-government uprising since the 1979 revolution has been rocking Iran since the presidential election in June 2009. People hoped Mir-Hossein Mousavi would defeat incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and bring real change. When Ahmadinejad was quickly declared the winner, millions thought the election—and their votes—had been stolen. People felt insulted and outraged, and hundreds of thousands—especially youth, students and women—took to the streets.

Since June, the uprising has developed in waves, periods of seeming calm giving way to new upsurges. The people have faced all manner of threats, intimidation and violent repression, only to come to the street again—even more defiant and courageous. Many have become increasingly bold and combative. And many have become radicalized—some coming to reject the program of Mousavi and the "green wave" for preserving the Islamic Republic. The demands of the uprising have not mainly been framed in terms of choosing one form of oppression or another, but demanding something radically different. "Death to dictatorship" hundreds of thousands have demanded, and even "Down with the Supreme Leader."

Anyone hungering for a radically different world cannot help feel their heart soar at the sight of hundreds of thousands—sometimes millions—of Iranians rising up, defying chains, knives, clubs, prison, torture, and bullets to take on their oppressors. At a time when far, far too many crimes and outrages are tolerated, the Iranian people are crying "No more!" And Iranian women are rising against a violent patriarchy and showing the world that they are not lesser beings than men, but equals in every respect, and that they're a mighty force for liberation—and revolution.  All this is much needed, and very inspiring—and challenging—for anyone on the planet with a thirst for justice and liberation.

The election protests have sharpened and given vent to decades of discontent and alienation over the suffocating, dead-end and dark-ages Islamic Republic, and a society the Communist Party of Iran (MLM) says is "drowning in corruption, destruction, superstition, dark religious ignorance, drug addiction and prostitution." (CPI (MLM) communiqué no 6: "People Beware! Mousavi is not your brother and he is not on your side!") Protestors have chanted, "Down with dictatorship," "Freedom of thought," "Freedom or death," and demanded an end to press, artistic, and intellectual censorship and suppression. Many Iranian women, and increasingly men, are defiantly opposing the Islamic theocracy's medieval sexual taboos and gender codes. Many Iranians are angry about economic deprivation and poverty.

The response to the protests by the Islamic Republic, President Ahmadinejad, and its "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Khamenei has been brutal and deadly. Peaceful street demonstrations have been attacked with clubs and teargas, or broken up with motorcycle charges. Over 100 have been shot in cold blood. Thousands have been arrested. Many have been tortured, raped or murdered while in prison. Recently the regime hung people for protesting. This naked repression has crystallized the regime's savageness for millions, and fueled and radicalized the protests. Many are now chanting, "Death to the oppressor whether Shah or Supreme Leader"—something unthinkable a year ago.

Barack Obama and the U.S. establishment have condemned the Islamic Republic's repression. And they claim America supports the Iranian people. It is not surprising that the U.S. rulers are trying to take advantage of the upheaval to advance their own agenda: to weaken or topple the Islamic Republic in order to gain a firmer imperialist grip on Iran and the Middle East. But the maneuvering of the U.S. rulers does not make the Iranian people's struggle any less just.

Revolutionary Communists in Iran Work for a Real Revolution

Over 100 years of Iranian history, and especially the 31-year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, show that it will take a real revolution to liberate the people of Iran. A revolution that overthrows religious rule. A revolution that breaks Iran out of the stranglehold of capitalist-imperialist domination. A revolution that uproots all forms of feudalism and traditional relations, including the barbaric treatment of women. A revolution that is part of a global communist revolution to emancipate all humanity. And a revolution led, as the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) states, "by a communist party that is not a remnant of the communist movement of the past but a vanguard of the future."

The uprising in Iran shows the potential for a real revolution. The CPI (MLM) is actively working for just such a revolution, working within this volatile and rapidly evolving situation to bring forward a new, revolutionary path in opposition to both imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism:

"Why can't we make sacrifices for much higher and loftier goals? Why not struggle for a fundamentally different society and future? A society free of all oppression and exploitation. A society where everyone shares and cooperates. Where the equality of women and men is a fundamental and self-evident principle. Where the beautiful scenes of collaboration, mutual help, and consideration we are witnessing in our common battles today would be institutionalized. A society that is rid of boredom and stagnation, and always lively and active."

Today's struggle and the work of Iranian communists have enormous importance for the liberation of Iran—and the planet. There's potential here to break out of the current political dynamic, shaped by the temporary defeat and the end of the first stage of the communist revolution, and by the clash between imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism. And a real revolutionary uprising in Iran could lift people's sights and dreams, and shatter the notion that there's no real alternative to the world as it is, and that revolution is unrealistic.

Anyone who wants a whole different world should support the struggle of the Iranian people, and the work of Iran's revolutionary communists.


Recent communiques and leaflets from the CPI (MLM) can be found on our website at:;; and See also, (in Farsi)

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