Thursday, 18 June 2009

An Iranian Revolution?


Any understanding of events in Iran requires an understanding of its history, and how it differs from its Arab neighbours. That being one of the first differences, of course, Iranians are not Arabs. The name Iran actually means Land of the Aryans. Unlike, its Arab neighbours who were for a long time, nomadic peoples with no settled territories, the Persians are one of the oldest civilisations on the planet going back to around 7,000 B.C., and the Persian Empire was for a long time a powerful world force. Indeed, unlike its neighbours Iran was never conquered and colonised. It did fight a number of wars with the Russian Empire, and lost considerable amounts of its territory to both Russia and Britain, but it remained an independent state.

In fact, the main consequence of the repeated external attacks on it, and the inadequate response of the weak Qajar Dynasty that ruled the country, was probably the bourgeois democratic revolution of 1906, which established the first Parliament, though like Britain within the context of a Constitutional Monarchy. In 1925, Reza Khan overthrew the Qajar Dynasty, and became Shah, initiating an industrialisation drive including large-scale railroad construction, and the creation of an education system. Unlike, its neighbours this process created from a much earlier stage a significant Iranian working-class, under conditions of national political independence.

However, that political independence during most of the 20th century has not meant complete freedom of action for the Iranian state. The closeness of Reza Shah to Nazi Germany – especially given Iran’s oil resources, and strategic Gulf position – led to a combined action by Britain and the USSR to replace him with his son Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. After WWII, in the context of the Cold War, and again given Iran’s resources and strategic position, Britain – which had significant investment in Iran through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP) – and the new global imperialist power in the US, both feared the possibility that the USSR could expand to the South, obtaining a grip on vital western oil supplies, and a warm water port.

When the newly elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who was elected in 1951, and enjoyed huge popular support, nationalised Iran’s oilfields, in 1953, there response was quick. Britain and the US, using the CIA and other resources hatched a plot that overthrew him, and handed complete power over to the Shah. However, it is important to remember that, however, brutal and undemocratic the Shah’s regime, it did have the effect of rapidly industrialising the Iranian economy, thereby expanding further the Iranian working class, and of modernising and secularising Iranian society.

Dictatorship and Democracy

It is important to remember the political consequences of these factors – the creation of a large industrial working class, brought together in large cities, and the history of secularism and modernity and culture that has characterised a large part of Iranian society during the last 100 years, when looking at the current social conflicts developing – as all modern revolutions do – out of the cities and large towns, often, at least initially, in opposition to vast reserves of reaction in the more backward countryside. The modern revolutions that have been successful going back to the Great French Revolution – with the exception of course of the counter-revolution launched in the Vendee – have all managed to tie the needs of the towns and cities, with the aspirations of the poor peasants. The fact, that this is a religious dictatorship does not change that fact. All of the feudal regimes that were overthrown by modern revolutions also relied heavily on religious mysticism, and the support of the faithful. It was often the case, that the Monarch was tied by economic interest to the peasants. For example, in Britain it was sections of the Landlord class, and the rising Capitalist Farmers and squires that sought to steal land from the peasants though Enclosures, whilst the Crown, opposed them in the name of traditional society. Yet, the facts are that for the ordinary peasants, although, they might go to Church and hold strong religious beliefs, they often vented their anger at the actual representatives of that religion, who they saw incarnate as the force, which oppressed them and leached off them on a daily basis. Strong religious belief should not, therefore, be equated with strong support for clerics. (Good background historical data on these revolutions is given by Barrington Moore Jnr. in his book, “The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, though I would disagree with many of his conclusions.

What IS different in Iran compared to those other modern revolutions – I am using the term “modern” here because the same argument applies to both the bourgeois revolutions of the late 18th, and 19th centuries, and the proletarian revolutions of the twentieth century that carried through at the same time the tasks of the bourgeois revolution, as well as those Peasant Revolutions such as in China and Indo-China led by Stalinist forces – is that in Iran, the bourgeois revolution was long ago completed. No social revolution in Iran is required to establish Capitalism, or a Capitalist State; it already exists. The revolution, if that is what it turns out to be, in Iran at the moment is not for now, a SOCIAL revolution, but a POLITICAL revolution. It is a revolution essentially instigated by the Iranian Capitalist class, to overthrow the clerical-fascist regime they were forced to resort to in 1979 to head-off the potential at that time, of the political revolution against the Shah, from carrying over into a social revolution against Capitalism itself.

Such political revolutions are nothing new. What is important in the context of a political revolution is, which class has clear domination. The English Civil War was a Political Revolution. A weak, newly emerging Merchant Class, with ties to the English nobility reflected in its ideas the needs of the new society. It did so in a very unclear manner, obscured across class boundaries with other issues such as religion. The political revolution it carried through reflected that. At first vacillating in its relation with the King, and unable to exert its own class rule directly through its own political representatives, it ceded power to Cromwell, whose state reflected those unformed social relations, remaining in large part a feudal state, but carrying through some aspects of the bourgeois revolution. Even though, bourgeois ideas had become dominant by the end of the 17th century – as reflected for example in Locke’s “Second Treatise on Government” in contrast to Hobbes earlier “Leviathan” – as the power of the merchants, and Capitalist farmers, not to mention the growing power of a class of Money Capitalists growing rich from lending to finance trade and colonisation, merged with those of at least sections of the landed classes who were using their wealth to build financial empires, and who were increasingly lured to become themselves Capitalist farmers, or mineral extractors of one form or another, and these ideas, developed through the new University Departments financed by them, came to dominate those who made up the Permanent State apparatus, it was not until 200 years later, with the rise of the industrial bourgeoisie, whose interests – unlike those of the merchants and Money Capitalists – diverged almost completely with those of these older classes, that the Capitalist class secured full political rule, via a series of reforms, carried through on the back of large movements of social unrest. Although, we tend to think of the Peterloo Massacre, for example, as an attack on working class people, it should be borne in mind that in fact, many of those involved were themselves Radicals, and representatives of industrial Capital.

The history of France has similar parallels. Not only did France go through the regime of Bonaparte, but also of Louis Napoleon, before the industrial bourgeoisie eventually achieves sufficient social dominance to achieve outright political control in the form of the Third Republic. Similar Bonapartist regimes have been seen in other parts of the world where weak bourgeois classes have been forced to cede political power to a modernising state apparatus, due to its own inability to rule via its own direct political representatives. Mexico under Cardenas was a later example, Egypt under Nasser an even later one. Trotsky made a distinction between these forms of Bonapartism reflecting a rising progressive bourgeoisie (or in the case of Soviet Bonapartism a rising, progressive working class) and those examples of Bonapartism that reflected rather a bourgeoisie that was weak, because it was faced with a rising working class challenging it for power. If the former represented a price that the bourgeoisie had to pay to prise power out of the hands of the aristocracy, and develop the economy, the latter was the price it had to pay to keep it out of the hands of the working class, and to prevent the crisis in the economy from destroying it. Of these Fascism was a particular form of Bonapartism, a form specific to this latter variant.


Under conditions where the working class is relatively young, weak and presents no threat to the bourgeoisie the former kind of Bonapartism is possible. Under conditions where the working class has developed into a modern powerful force, it is not; only the latter kind is possible. But, for that very reason it can never satisfy the real needs and interests of Capital, and to the extent that it is able to exert political power AGAINST the immediate interests of Capital, and individual Capitalists it represents an encumbrance to it. For those reasons Capital will only tolerate it, for as long as it serves a purpose for it.

But, it’s important to make this point here. In the USSR, the Stalinist Bonapartist bureaucracy fulfilled the same function, but even when the working class had become more socially dominant by the 1960’s, simply transforming that social dominance into political dominance, is no straightforward matter. By definition, the fusion of political power and state power that marks a Bonapartist regime, along with the power of that state, the vested interests of its upper echelons, and the frequently repressive nature of such states makes the job of putting an end to this encumbrance no easy task. As Trotsky said, the Political revolution in the USSR would probably be almost unmistakeable from a social revolution. History suggests that is one scenario; the other is a long slow series of revolts such as those that secured political power for the bourgeoisie in Britain and France.

In Germany and Italy, and in Japan whose regime has many similarities with fascism, the task of removing the fascist, Bonapartist regime was done for the Capitalists by the USSR, and the German Capitalists international brethren alongside their own military defeat, though many of the fascists themselves were left in positions of power by the Allies, after the war in business, in the Courts and in Government, whilst in Germany, in particular, the Left was suppressed with laws such as the Berufsverbot. In Spain, the fascist regime of Franco was able to stay in power for 40 years, before Capital was able to replace it, with a bourgeois democracy through which it could once again exercise its own direct political control. In Portugal, Capital had to rely on a popular revolution, and military support to remove the fascist regime of Caetano. This latter example may turn out to be a model of what might transpire in Iran, depending upon the correlation of forces. It was probably the most likely means by which Capital would have removed Hitler in Germany had it not been for the military defeat.

Yet another example in some respects, though, is the Russian revolution of 1917. In Russia, an increasingly Capitalist economy, along with a Capitalist State, was sat upon by an autocratic Tsarist political power. Ultimately, the political or Governmental power is weak, when confronted with the social power of a dominant class, and the power of that class’s State. In February 1917, the Tsarist political power collapsed. Its hold over certain sections of the State power – which every Governmental Power will exert to some degree due to its political legitimacy – was overwhelmed by those sections of the State Power already in the hands of the bourgeoisie and its allies amongst the nobility. The masses in the streets gave the bourgeoisie the popular mandate to sweep the Tsar from power.

In many ways that has its reflection in Iran today. Those acting as figureheads of the protests are not workers representatives, nor even from their records representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie. On the contrary, they are as much butchers of the clerical-fascist regime as Ahmedinejad, and Khameini. But, their current position, the support from other sections of the clerics such as from Rafsanjani, are probably a reflection of a mood and a move within the Iranian bourgeoisie that senses a need to have done with the clerical-fascist regime. On the one hand, that regime has badly mismanaged the economy over the last 30 years. Like every such dictatorial regime whether it be Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia, they can do some things – such as developing heavy industry, building infrastructure etc – well, but for everything else that requires, drive, initiate, creative and critical thinking etc. they do badly, precisely because such regimes stifle all of those qualities. That mismanagement, at a time when oil prices have risen to historic levels, and when every economy in the world has been booming, in a country with all of the natural resources and other benefits that Iran possesses, seems to have increased dramatically in the last five years under Ahmedinejad. Not only that, but the regimes increasing belligerence, its confrontation with the US and UN over the nuclear programme looked to be setting the country on a collision course for war, and possibly the kind of Occupation and chaos that has been inflicted on Iraq.

There has been an interesting debate on exactly what the divisions between Ahmedinejad and Khameini on one side, and Mousavi on the other represent at Permanent Revolution

The Working Class and the Revolutionary Party

Not only are those conditions similar to those that led to the 1906, bourgeois revolution in Iran, but also they are similar to the conditions that led to the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia. What makes this more like February 1917 in Russia than 1906 in Iran is the role of the working class. In February 1917, the majority of workers who came out into the streets were not demanding socialism. Nor were the troops whose social roots ran deep into the Russian Peasantry. For both the immediate concern was an end to the War. For both too, there was a demand for food as the consequences of the War had left people in dire straits. As a way out of its condition the Peasants demanded land distribution, whilst for the workers the way out was better wages, and shorter hours.

All of the parties offered an end to the War. The Peasant Party, the Social Revolutionaries offered land reform, whilst the socialists of the Mensheviks offered better wages, and shorter hours for workers. At this time in 1917, when the Tsar was overthrown, and placed under house arrest the Bolsheviks were a tiny Minority. In fact, most of their leaders were not even in the country. Lenin did not return until April. Of the others some of the first to return were Stalin and Kamenev, who simply fell in behind the positions adopted by the Mensheviks, much to Lenin’s disgust.

A lot has been written about the nature of the Bolsheviks, their tight discipline, and so on that enabled them to overcome their position, and take the leadership. Having read Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution”, and much more besides, having looked at the positions taken by many of the leading “Old Bolsheviks”, at the divisions within the party that led many Bolsheviks on a day to day basis to be hardly distinguishable from the Mensheviks, I think that much of this is mythology written after the event. I do agree with Trotsky in his History on one major point, that gives nothing away to the theory about the role of the individual in history – the decisive factor was Lenin himself. But, it seems to me that the Bolsheviks were able to assume the position of leadership they did for the very simple reason that the other parties, having promised the workers and peasants those very basis things, then, having secured political power in the provisional Government, simply reneged upon them. Trotsky says they had to because of who they were. I am not at all sure that is correct. But, they did, and largely because of Lenin’s leadership and decisiveness the Bolsheviks were able to win over the vast majority of workers and peasants.

In a sense there are parallels with a Trade Union. For most of the time, the kind of people you want in positions in a Trade Union Branch, are people who can listen patiently to the members, who can talk through problems, and deal with the routine mundane affairs of administration. But, when a strike breaks out, a completely different kind of person is required. All of those qualities of patience, diligence, application to routine and so on are impediments to the need to be bold, decisive, provide leadership and so on. That is why Strike Committees are set up, and why during such periods new leaders come forward. The Bolsheviks, and Lenin as their embodiment acted as such a Strike Committee for the revolution. It’s likely that in every such revolution, such an organisation, and such leadership are required. I make the distinction here between such an organisation being needed for the success of the revolution, and needed for the establishment of socialism. Generally, speaking Strike Committees do not make good union officials outside of strikes. Outside of workers revolutions, the working class needs to be strong enough, and organised and developed enough to be able to put its own revolutionary Strike Committee back in its box, and to exercise its own democratic rule.

It was the lack of such an organisation in 1979 that led to the establishment of the clerical-fascist regime. It will be the existence or not of a similar organisation now that will determine the outcome of the current events. Those who do not remember those events, perhaps find it difficult to understand exactly what happened at the time. The Victors always write history, and for their own class reasons western Capital has always presented the 1979 Iranian Revolution as being a clerical revolution from the beginning. However, for the reasons referred to earlier concerning the size of the Iranian working class, its own long history going back to the beginning of the twentieth century, its own organisations, including a number of “Marxist” parties, such a description is completely false. Although, the spark for the revolution was the autocratic rule of the Shah, the beatings, the torture, the role of the SAVAK secret police and so on, as well as what was seen to be the Shah’s connections with US imperialism – which along with his modernism, and secularism was certainly a pole of opposition for the reactionary and religious segments of the opposition – as with all such social eruptions, that spark led to the outpouring of a wide range of social grievances. In other words, as always occurs in such situations, a general popular revolt rapidly sees the emergence of class interests, as different sections of society assert their own demands arising out of their own class position. Unlike, so far, in the situation today in Iran, at the beginning of the revolt, which began in 1978, the country saw not just street protests – which tend to be typically a middle class form of protest – but widespread strikes, which crippled the economy.

(A good background to the events is Fred Halliday's book “Iran”.)

As the Russian revolutions of 1905, and the two of 1917 showed, even workers organisations forced to operate underground, can quickly flower once such revolts occur. They can become the basis of workers organisation and opposition. Such was true of Iran in 1979 too. But, as with many other situations, for example May 1968 in France, and the uprisings in Eastern Europe after WWII, the lack of a revolutionary party with the decisiveness, the flexibility of tactics that Lenin was able to impose upon the Bolsheviks in 1917, meant that the workers were at a disadvantage compared with the bourgeoisie, which DOES have a number of forms of organisation, does have the advantage of controlling state power and so on. Given the size and power of the revolt had the bourgeoisie not acted, then even without such a Party, the working class would have stumbled its way to some kind of power. But, that is the point; under such conditions the bourgeoisie always WILL act.

In 1920, in Italy, in the face of mounting workers revolt, the establishment of Workers Councils across the industrial cities, and implementation in many of the large factories of Workers Control, the bourgeoisie acted in the face of indecisiveness by the workers and the Italian Communist Party to extend that movement to the seizure of State Power. It financed and promoted Mussolini’s Fascists, as a populist movement, rallying behind it the frightened sections of society, the middle classes, the richer peasantry and so on, as well as utilising those less well educated, atomised and backward sections of society, the petty criminals, the long term unemployed and so on, to act as its strong men on the streets. The Nazis, followed a similar course, and today the BNP like every other fascist party, plays by the same rulebook. In Italy in 1920, and in Germany in the 1930’s, the bourgeoisie responded to a threat to its power from the working class, by promoting fascist parties, who gathered around them these backward social elements to mount a physical strike against the workers, and the workers and their parties having missed the chance to seize power, the bourgeoisie then places its faith in the fascists to save its skin, even at the expense of giving up its own direct political power.

See this collection of Trotsky’s writings on Germany for the fuller details Trotsky On Fascism in Germany


In essence this is what happened in Iran in 1979. Faced with a massive popular revolt, and the threat of it turning into a social revolution led by the working class, the Iranian bourgeoisie looked for an alternative, and found it ready made in the charismatic figure of the exiled Khomeini, whose charisma was enhanced further by the media attention focussed on him by the media of the world. As a single figurehead, and with a ready-made organisation behind him in the form of the clerical-establishment, and its direct access to the most backward elements in Iranian society, he was able to hijack the popular revolution. Worse still, the Left both in Iran, and in the West that should have known better from history, failed to warn the Iranian workers of the danger, failed to ensure the necessary separation of workers organisations from those of the clericalists. The rest as they say is history. The Shah packed his bags within days and went into luxurious exile. The clerical-fascists having assumed power did what all fascists do and turned upon the workers and their organisations.

As an indication of the size of the workers organisations, in the blood purges carried out by the regime after its establishment tens of thousands of Marxists and other Leftists were murdered. Yet, despite the repression, despite the continued gaoling of Trade Unionists, workers have continued to resist the regime with sporadic strike action. If at least sections of the bourgeoisie are now playing with the idea of dismantling the clerical-fascist regime it must be because either they are desperate at the condition it has brought the economy to, or because they believe that any workers protest can be contained, or both. They may see as a model the experience of Poland, where in conditions of similar protest at the Stalinist regime, even the adoption by workers of Trotskyist “Transitional Demands”, the bourgeoisie was able to use the charismatic figure of Walesa, and the organisation of the Catholic Church behind him – and it has since transpired the resources of the CIA – to divert the protest into safe channels.

The message from history is clear. If the bosses think that the workers will challenge the rule of Capital, the bosses will stop at nothing to save their skin. But, that cannot be a reason for workers NOT to challenge the bosses. Our task is to push the workers struggle as far as possible, as successfully as possible. If the current struggles in Iran lead only to a replacement of the current fascist regime, with a bourgeois democracy that at least, will be a step forward, the creation of better conditions within which workers can press their interests. But, even that will only be possible if the workers take the lead of this struggle.

Once again the lack of a world party of revolution hampers the prospects of a successful workers solution. Despite that our task is to be revolutionary optimists under such conditions.

Victory to the Iranian Workers. Workers of the World Unite. Forward to the Iranian Workers Revolution.


The Sentinel said...

My God!

What an enormous amount of waffle to answer a question I could have rendered down to one word - An Iranian revolution? = No.

Merely some protests for a new election; slightly larger in scale then the same types of protest in 1999 and 2003, and by ALL cross sections of people; and there are substantial amounts of Armadinejad supporters protesting for the election to stand, so it is far from all one sided in any case!

But of course, you think it is some sort of communits uprising, when it clearly is not.

But you nothing if not delusional! (And dishonest, and devoid of integrity!)

And your glee over violence reflects what a hateful thugs you and your nasty worlds-most-prolific-mass-murdering anti-freedom ideology really are.

The Sentinel said...

And like I said, don't you find it remarkable how they never protest this hard when they are stoning someone to death or hanging children?

The Sentinel said...
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