Mass demonstrations have erupted in Iran in protest at the apparent rigging of the presidential elections by the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regime. According to reports over one million people have demonstrated in the capital Tehran and over a dozen have been killed in clashes with the police and hated Basij militia.
by Tony Saunois, CWI
Reports of mass protest in other cities such as Shiraz are also emerging. With heavy press censorship, much of the movement has been co-ordinated through ‘Twitter’ – Iran has the highest number of internet ‘bloggers’ per head of population in the world.
Tehran University has been surrounded by armed police and brutal repression has been reported of students in their dormitories. Other reports speak of gunfire being heard throughout the capital during the night following the election. Ahmedinejad, who announced victory within a few hours of the polls, has apparently simply left the country and is in Russia to attend diplomatic meetings.
These mass demonstrations have taken place despite the threat by the regime to authorise the use of live ammunition against the protesters. It appears that big sections of the urban population have lost their fear of the regime and are prepared to take to the streets to protest against it.
This represents a crucial turning point in the struggle against any dictatorship. BBC footage shows protesters refusing to disperse when faced with attacks by the military police.
To the forefront have been students but with the active support of older sections of the population – especially white-collar workers. There are divisions within the regime on how to deal with this mass movement.
This, combined with the mass mobilisation of the middle class and students clearly indicates that important elements of a pre-revolutionary crisis are developing.
At this stage however the working class has not yet decisively joined the struggle and there is confusion in the political consciousness of those involved, reflected in some of the religious slogans being chanted such as “God is great”. However, it should be remembered that the first demonstrations of the Russian revolution in 1905 were led by a priest, Father Gapon.
How this movement will develop is not yet clear but it has already forced the regime into an abrupt about turn. The Guardian Council has overturned its previous decision and is now allowing a recount of contested votes. This is an attempt to calm the situation as the regime fears that the protests will erupt further and develop into an uprising against the regime itself.
Fuelled by rising mass unemployment and a yearning for democratic rights, especially amongst the youth – 60% of the Iranian population is under the age of thirty – the urban youth in particular are in revolt against the theocratic repression they have suffered.
An important feature of this movement has been the mobilisation of young women demanding ‘equality’. This was reflected in the enormous popularity during the campaign of Zahra Rahnavard, wife of the main opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.
But while the mass opposition in the cities has rallied to Mousavi, he is no socialist or defender of the working class and the poor. A former prime minister, his pro-capitalist programme is limited to reform of the current theocratic state. However, the attempt to rig the election by Ahmadinejad has possibly opened the floodgates to a mass movement that could topple his regime and open a new era in Iran.
At the same time there is an apparent division between the rural poor and some sections of the most downtrodden and oppressed in some of the cities and urban centres who have tended to support Ahmadinejad because of his right-wing reactionary populist stance against corruption and the rich liberal elite and his ‘anti-western imperialist’ stance.
The decisive question in the short term is if the working class will now move into action. Trade unions are reported to be discussing calling a general strike, which is the main fear of the regime. At the time of writing the opposition has called off a mass protest scheduled in Tehran, to avoid clashes with pro-government forces. This illustrates the fear reformist pro-capitalists like Mousavi have of unleashing mass mobilisations which can easily get out of their control and move in a more radical revolutionary direction.
Mousavi may try to reach a compromise with the existing regime to avoid bringing the masses onto the streets. Alternatively, the regime may be forced to accept Ahmedinejad’s defeat in order to try to maintain control of the situation. Attempts may also be taken to wind down the protests for fear of their consequences.
However, the genie is out of the bottle and a decisive new phase of struggle has opened in Iran. The struggle for genuine democratic rights, the right to strike, to hold free elections, form free trade unions, political parties and equality for women needs to be fought for by all workers, youth and socialists. The emergence of the working class into this movement can give it the necessary cohesion and power to defeat the regime.
The formation of democratically elected committees of struggle from the workplaces and universities linking together with the middle class and urban poor can form the basis of a united struggle. The calling of a general strike and forming a defence militia along with a class appeal to the rank and file of the army are necessary steps to take the movement forward to overthrow the regime. Workers’ committees could also convene elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly to decide the future of Iran.
The guarantee of democratic rights and a solution to the mass poverty and unemployment can only then be assured with the formation of a workers’ and peasants’ government on a revolutionary socialist programme to transform society in the interests of all working people.