Iran: Discontent, protests, strikes and ISIS terror

Lukas Zöbelein, Sozialistische Organisation Solidarität (CWI Germany) Iran 1 February 2024

Last December a video of 70-year-old Sadegh Bana Motejaded from the city of Rasht singing and dancing in the fish market where he worked caught the imagination of tens of thousands of Iranians. Soon people were publicly singing and dancing to Motejaded’s song throughout the country.

Nothing special one might say, but in Iran this is something the theocratic regime seeks to ban. So, singing and dancing became the latest symbol of opposition to the regime as its popularity spread. Soon Bana Motejaded’s instagram page had about 128,000 followers. One remix video of Motejaded performing had 80 million views in the first two weeks of December.

The regime responded predictably with repression. Twelve men who had appeared in the original video were arrested and had their social media pages shut down. Bana Motejaded was summoned to the city police station and his instagram page was effectively shut down. All Motejaded’s instagram posts were removed and a legal notice stating that “this page has been shut down for creating criminal content” and that the person who had engaged in the activity “has been dealt with” replaced the singing and dancing. People throughout Iran responded by uploading videos of them dancing to the same song online. In the capital. Tehran, traffic stopped in a major road tunnel for an impromptu dance party to the song.

The scale of the popular reaction also revealed further divisions within the Iran regime. A headline in the conservative newspaper, Farhikhtegan, pointedly said: “How to create an opposition activist out of a simple singer” when discussing the story.

Obviously, socialists stand on the side of those affected by this repression and once again demand an end to all repression and censorship, the release of all political prisoners and democratic rights in Iran. Music and dance were and are an important part of Iranian culture and that the regime is once again provoking opposition by trampling on Iran’s cultural heritage. Clearly for the opposition it is a matter of combining the fight for economic and social justice with the fight for democratic rights and the free expression of feelings and a free art. To this end, it is crucial that workers’ organisations and left-wing political committees get involved in these sorts of disputes and advance their programmes and tactics in them.

December also saw a four-day strike at the National Steel Industrial Group in Ahvaz. The demands of this December 22 to 26 days’ strike were as follows:
  • Removing the ban on entering the company premises by suspended workers and the return to work of the previously fired workers.
  • Harmonizing the wages of the workers with that of other steel companies, including Oxin Steel
  • Complete and immediate implementation of the job classification plan
  • Full and secure contracts for all workers
  • Dismissal of the corrupt CEO and expropriation of the ownership of the National Bank and the participation of the workers in the direction and management of the company

  • We have not yet received any information on the progress and outcome of the strike. Nevertheless, we stand in solidarity with the workers of the National Steel Industrial Group in Ahvaz. Such strikes show the way forward for the entire working class. At the same time efforts need to be made to create independent working-class structures in every company to make workers’ protests and strikes more likely to succeed. This is linked to necessary for steps towards the formation of nationwide trade union structures, like the teachers have, in all sectors of the economy in Iran. Such bodies should aim at becoming capable of organising actions building towards a nationwide general strike of 24-48 hours as a step that demonstrates the opposition’s strength, particularly of the working class, and the regime’s weak base. Mass actions like this are a key to further isolating the reactionary theocratic regime, oppose and prevent it from continuing to terrorise society with its brutal repression and show that the working class is challenging the entire system.

    But another side of the situation was shown in the January 3 a terrorist attack by ISIS on the memorial service for General Qasem Soleimani, who was murdered by a US drone in Iraq in 2020. This attack resulted in 103 dead and 141 injured. During this attack ISIS declared that it was “at war” with the Islamic Republic of Iran. This shows that the theocratic regime is not only being attacked from a progressive perspective, but also in the form of two bombs by forces that are at least as reactionary as it is.

    In this situation it is even more important that working class activists and the parts of the Iranian left that are concretely oriented towards building a workers’ opposition move towards a broad discussion on how they can best organise themselves under the conditions within Iran. Steps have been made over the past years to build independent workplace or trade union style organisations, steps which have had some successes but also suffered repression by the regime.

    These are important advances, but political organisation is also necessary to both discuss what needs to be done and to organise wider struggles. Organisation is important but the politics cannot be ignored. Steps towards the building of a workers’ party would be a key advance, but it would need to adopt a socialist programme if it is going to be able to provide a way out of the crisis in the interests of working class, oppressed and poor. Such a party cannot simply be declared, it needs to be grown with firm roots and today the challenge is to build the nuclei of socialist activists who can argue for such a programme. A key aspect is that the workers’ and left organisations must be internally democratic so that they offer an alternative to Iran’s completely bureaucratised theocratic regime, its reactionary opponents at home, like ISIS, and others whether they be pro-capitalists or pro-royalists.

    Right now, the situation in Iran is further exacerbated by increasingly tense situation in the entire region, which has been deepened in the last few months since the October 7, 2023, attack on Israel and the subsequent mass slaughter in Gaza. The mutual rocket fire between the Iranian regime and the regime of neighbouring Pakistan illustrated bough the tensions and the possibility of fighting developing elsewhere will inviolably impact on Itan.

    Especially since the beginning of 2024, the theocratic regime has once again used harsh measures, a wave of executions, especially against those involved in the revolutionary youth movement (‘Women, Life, Freedom’). It is significant that the Tehran bus workers’ union issued a statement at the beginning of this year opposing the death penalty and demanding a halt to executions and the release of all political prisoners – calls that need to be widely supported. This call must be taken up widely with demands for an immediate end to all executions and the release of all political prisoners in Iran. Importantly the Tehran bus drivers’ union linked these demands to their general call that “Workers need unity and organisation.” What is needed are concrete steps to organise both support for these demands and to take the necessary steps to strengthen workers’ organisations, including those which may need to be semi-legal or underground.

    It is necessary for trade union and left-wing activists and organisations to organise concrete solidarity with those affected by repression and the activists threatened by execution in Iran. But, in so doing, distance must be kept from the hypocritical western powers who condemn executions in Iran but are silent about the execution of at least 172 people in 2023 by their Saudi Arabian ally.

    The best way to fight for the demands listed above, as well as for the expropriation of the so-called Revolutionary Guards, for example, is to build a nationwide mass revolutionary movement. Recent years have seen the potential for such a development in Iran in the largescale protests which have repeated taken place, most recently the ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ movement. This movement, like other previous ones, was heroic and on a largescale. Buy clearly, alongside a lack of organisation and co-ordination, there was no strategy on how to win its demands and no agreement on how a ‘new’ Iran should be structured and run. This reflected both the stage the movement was at and the absence of an organised body of socialist revolutionaries able to propose concrete next steps while arguing on the need for the working class and poor to rule Iran. Inevitably now there are discussions and debates taking place in Iran on precisely this question.

    The struggle for an alternative must be conducted!
    It is very welcome that parts of the Iranian revolutionary left have started a discussion about what an alternative to the completely bureaucratised and corrupt theocratic regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran could look like.

    The perspective of a number on the left of a council-led future for the country, in other words fighting for a workers’ democracy implementing socialist policies, is especially important. The rejection of the idea of striving for a democratic capitalist regime is a crucial step forward, as it breaks with the idea of jointly working with pro-capitalist forces which has derailed many revolutions in the past.

    However, it will not be enough for a socialist organisation to simply point out that its alternative to right-wing capitalist alternatives is the rule of the councils. That could be seen as abstract and not be able to engage in a real dialogue with those sections seeking an ‘easier’ road to change.

    Socialists argue that what is needed is a programme that, on the one hand, prepares the masses to take power into their own hands by building their own independent organisations, including democratically organised councils, while campaigning on daily demands to mobilise the working class and arguing the case for breaking with capitalism. Furthermore, the programme must not be allowed to disintegrate into these two individual parts. It must be methodically organised in such a way that a bridge is built between the two poles of fighting on immediate issues and to build a movement to change society. This means, for example, that it shows why equal rights and freedom from oppression for women in all spheres of society is only possible if capitalism is thoroughly broken with. A new society can only be begun to be built when the working class takes control and management of the economy and society into its own hands through its own organisations, such as councils.

    Just as it happened in Russia in 1917
    It is important that the experiences of the 1917 Russian and other revolutions are discussed within the Iranian left. However, it should also be recognised that the Bolsheviks were able to win a majority amongst the working and poor for soviet (council) rule on society because they put forward the right slogans and demands at the right time. For example, they linked their slogan of “Peace, Land, Bread” to the question of ending capitalist rule, arguing that the soviets should take power. Hence their slogan “All power to the soviets”. But as it became clear during 1917 that the then leadership of the Soviets supported a pro-capitalist government that slogan stopped being used until later in 1917 when the Bolsheviks started becoming a majority within the soviets and it became the policy which was implemented in the October revolution. The discussions and debates in Iran comrades seem to ignore this experience fact in our eyes, because as they discuss the historical and current relevance of council rule but skip a discussion about what slogans and programme are necessary to achieve it now in their discussions.

    They discuss, for example, why the Iranian working class has not yet intervened as an organised force in the revolutionary process that continues to develop, albeit with ebbs and flows, but do not really discuss how the Iranian working class can be empowered to do just that.

    This is the vital question relating to both how the regime can be overthrown and, importantly, what follows afterwards. The issue of socialists understanding both why initially after the regime is gone there will be unclarity on exactly want to do next and how then revolutionaries can work to win a majority for the overthrow of capitalism and the move to begin to build a socialist alternative is a key one if the inevitable revolution is going to change the country and not simply the regime. These are not questions just facing Iranian socialists and activists, they are universal questions despite the obviously quite different conditions in each country. They are universal in the broad sense that the general issues have arisen in every revolution since the birth of capitalism. In that sense experiences, both from today and from history, need to be shared and discussed with lessons drawn from both victories, especially the 1917 Russian revolution, and defeats, a process which the Committee for a Workers’ International strives to participate in.


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