Rebel Youth Rock Iran

Revolutionary Worker #1015, July 25, 1999

A defiant new youth movement is rocking Iran. The rebel students--joined by proletarian youth and others--have carried out a series of protests in the streets and fought against the police and government-backed paramilitary groups. They are bringing a fresh and welcome wind of resistance to this country ruled by a regime of reactionary fundamentalist clergymen.

The student protests were triggered by a struggle between ruling class factions within the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). Forces associated with the IRI's "supreme leader," Ayatollah Khamenei, closed down the newspaper Salam, and the Parliament passed a new law putting greater restrictions on the press. In the Western media, Khamenei is called the head of the "hard-line" or "conservative" section of the IRI. The newspaper Salam is identified with President Khatami, who is usually called "moderate" or "liberal" in the Western media. While there are some differences over policy between these different factions of the IRI, they are fundamentally united when it comes to defending their ruling class interests against the masses of people. And while Khamenei often spouts anti-U.S. rhetoric, all the IRI figures represent the interests of the exploiting classes in Iran who want to make deals with the imperialist powers. The basic unity between Khamenei and Khatami became even clearer in the course of the recent protests.

Starting on Thursday, July 8, six days of escalating protests spread from the university to the streets of Teheran and to other areas of the country. And the protests drew in unemployed youth and other sections of the people. The students began with specific demands against the closing of Salam and press censorship. But their protests are an expression of deep anger and dissatisfaction among broad sections of the people in Iran. There is widespread poverty and unemployment--hitting not only the poorest sections of the people but the middle classes as well. Many are sick and tired of the repressive rule of the clergy and their religious laws. Women are rebelling against the medieval patriarchy and woman-hating ideology promoted by the IRI.

On July 8, 200 students from Teheran University staged a peaceful sit-in protest. The authorities responded with deadly viciousness. In the early hours of Friday, July 9, hundreds of riot police attacked the student dormitory. They busted into every single room and beat up students. A number of students were killed, and many were arrested.

This outrageous attack sparked huge and angry demonstrations that included almost all the students on the campus. The IRI authorities were put on the defensive. President Khatami expressed support for the student protests. Khamenei also condemned the attack on the dormitory--and tried to pass the blame on to the police chief.

But the students would not be appeased by such false words. On Monday, July 12, demonstrators clashed with police at Teheran University and elsewhere in the city. The police used riot batons and tear gas and arrested hundreds. The official security forces were joined by paramilitary thugs who were transported to the university on government-owned buses.

In a significant development, protests against the IRI spread to other major cities in Iran. In Tabriz, students along with thousands of others took to the streets on Sunday, July 11. The protesters reportedly burned down banks and clashed with the police. The events in Tabriz apparently had a big influence on the youth in Teheran, making them even bolder in going up against the government.

IRI officials quickly moved from "support" of the youth to condemnations and threats. Khamenei called the students "bandits." And Khatami exposed his true reactionary nature when he also openly turned against the protests. He said the students were led by "saboteurs" who threatened "national security" and "intended to attack the foundations of the system and lead the country into anarchy." All the IRI authorities warned people against further protests.

Tuesday, July 13, was a crucial day. The RW received a correspondence from a supporter of the Union of Communists of Iran (Sarbedaran) about the recent protests. The correspondent wrote about the developments on that day--and their significance: "Today is Tuesday; today marked a clear turning point in this movement which started six days ago. The masses of students defied the government ban on `any kind of street protests' and gathered in front of Teheran University. The National Security Council and President Khatami, along with all kinds of oppressive agencies of the IRI had warned the students not to take to the streets and to confine their protest movement to the campus. But the students defied all of them and took to the streets--and non-students joined them as well. Around noon they were attacked by the riot police and undercover police. Many were wounded and arrested. But the clashes went on and spread to other corners of the city.

"This was a big victory for the revolutionary line. Why? Because there was a two-line struggle among the students. The terms of this two-line struggle was, and is, whether the students should take their protest movement to the masses, or stay within the campus; whether they should restrain themselves to reformist and mild slogans and demands; whether they should beg President Khatami to grant some reforms, or go all out and say that they do not want this regime. That was great. In the history of the student movement in Iran, the question of whether to contain the movement to the campus or go out and call the masses to join in with them in struggle against the regime was always a point of contention between the revolutionary trend on the one hand and the collaborationist trend on the other.

"The majority of the students joined this correct and militant line. For the majority of this majority, this was their first experience in political struggle. Many of them had voted for the so-called reformer President Khatami. I am saying so-called reformer, because he has only given the promise of some pitiful reforms and has not carried out even one of his promises. So the masses of students have learned a big lesson that... Khatami himself is a part of the system....

"What has really frightened the regime is that the main body of the street demonstrators are not students only anymore. The fact of the matter is that the correct line of the students has paid off, and large sections of the protesting masses in the streets are the unemployed youth and ordinary people. And this is something that the regime wanted to prevent from happening, when it banned the continuation of protests in the streets. The student protests now consist of unemployed youth as well--in fact, a large bulk of it is the youth. This has frightened both factions of the regime, and they have tried hard to close their ranks in order to deal with these mass protests."

The UIC(S) supporter also pointed out a shortcoming of the current movement: "One of the weaknesses of the student movement that they have not overcome yet is that they have not formed a slogan and demand regarding the oppression of women and against such things as compulsory headwear, etc. Also, the presence of women students do not match their numbers in the universities at all (they are at least 40 percent of the students)."

On Wednesday, July 14, Khatami joined with other IRI officials to lead a "peace and security rally"--in order to oppose the student "saboteurs" and to express support for "supreme leader" Khamenei. The IRI pointed to the rally of tens of thousands as "proof" that the protesters were an isolated few. But there were reports that soldiers were dismissed for the day so they could attend the rally in civilian clothes, and employees at government and private work places were ordered by their bosses to go.

Even if the IRI is able to restore "calm" to the streets for now, the recent days of protest have exposed deep cracks in their rule. Twenty years ago, the people of Iran rose up in revolution to overthrow the Shah, a brutal puppet of the U.S. imperialists. The fruits of this great struggle were stolen by reactionary clerics who set up an oppressive and stifling theocracy. Increasingly over the recent years, there have been uprisings and protests against the IRI. The July rebellion was like a new burst of thunder in the people's struggle in Iran. As the UIC(S) supporter wrote: "The rebellion of the student masses has re-polarized the political scene. In a matter of six days, the masses have learned a lot of political lessons."

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