The Bolivarian Revolution and Iran
In Iran we have a situation in which the opposition denounces electoral fraud, in which this allegation gets support from the imperialist powers and in which there are street demonstrations against the election results. It is understandable that many revolutionaries in Venezuela will draw parallels between what is happening in Iran and situations we have lived through during the Bolivarian revolution. In Venezuela, more than once, the reactionary and oligarchic counter-revolution, with the support of imperialism, has attempted to create a situation of chaos in the streets with the excuse of an alleged “electoral fraud” in order to de-legitimise the election victories of the revolution (during the recall referendum, in the 2006 presidential elections, during the constitutional reform referendum in 2007, etc).
However these parallels do not correspond to reality.
The Islamic Republic – a revolutionary regime?
First of all, the Iranian regime of the Islamic Republic is not a revolutionary regime. The Iranian revolution which was victorious in 1979, was a genuine mass revolution, with the active participation of the working class, the youth, the peasantry, the soldiers, the women, etc. The decisive factor which brought down the hated Shah was the general strike of the oil workers. Millions of workers organised shoras (factory councils) in their factories and took over control and administration of these, in a similar way to what oil workers did in Venezuela during the bosses lock out and sabotage of the economy in December 2002. Millions of peasants occupied the land of the big landowners (as they are doing now in Venezuela). The students occupied their schools and universities and proceeded to democratise them putting an end to the elitism that had dominated them. The soldiers also set up their shoras (councils) and proceeded to purge the army from reactionary officers. The oppressed nationalities (Kurds, Arabs, Azeri, etc) conquered their freedom. The Iranian people as a whole threw away the yoke of imperialism.
However, the current Iranian regime of the Islamic Republic was consolidated, in the period between 1979 and 1983, precisely on the basis of the smashing of this revolution on the part of the fundamentalist Islamic clerics. Over a period of several years all the conquests of the 1979 revolution were destroyed. Land was given back to landowners, expelling the peasants which had taken it. The factory councils were destroyed and replaced by Islamic shoras, leaving the workers with no right to organise or to strike. A particular interpretation of Islam was imposed on the population as a whole, bringing the most ruthless denial of women’s rights and creating an atmosphere of ideological oppression for the majority of the population.
The kidnapping and smashing of the workers’ and peoples’ revolution of 1979 on the part of fundamentalist Islamic clergy was only possible because of the wrong policies of all left wing organisations who thought that they could form a united front with the Muslim clerics led by Ayatollah Khomeini. They paid dearly for their mistakes. Over a period of four years, with increasingly brutal attacks against the left, the power of the Islamic Republic was consolidated over what had been a working class and anti-imperialist revolution. In order to be able to achieve this, the Muslim clerics dressed themselves in anti-imperialist robes, organising the incident of the US embassy and skilfully exploiting the war with Iraq. By 1983, all left wing parties had been banned (despite their support for a united front with Khomeini), and some 30,000 militants of different groups of the reformist, nationalist and revolutionary left had been killed. These are the origins of the present day Islamic Republic of Iran. Not a revolutionary regime, but rather a regime born by smashing a revolution.
Was there electoral fraud?
Some argue that on June 13, 2009 there was no electoral fraud, but there are numerous examples of this. To start with, any candidate standing for election has to be approved by the Guardian Council, an undemocratic 12-person body.
Regarding fraud itself, let’s just give a proven example. Conservative candidate Hoshem Rezaei, who has not called for nor participated in the protests last week, alleged that in 80 to 170 cities, voter turnout had been more than the electoral census. That is, more people had voted than were registered to vote! In all of these cities, Ahmadinejad had won with a large majority, in some cases by 80 or 90%. On June 21, after a week of demonstrations with the participation of millions of people and the death of at least 12 in clashes on Saturday June 20, the Guardian Council was forced to comment on these allegations. On behalf of the Guardian Council, Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei spoke on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Channel 2, and said that “statistics provided by the candidates, who claim more than 100% of those eligible have cast their ballot in 80-170 cities are not accurate - the incident has happened in only 50 cities”!! He then went on to explain that a turnout of over 100% was a “normal phenomena because there is no legal limitation for people to vote for the presidential elections in another city or province to which people often travel or commute”. Finally he added that since this “only affected 3 million people” it would not have altered the final results.
Ahmadinejad – a revolutionary?
As the clerics did in 1979, Ahmadinejad has used anti-imperialist and pro-poor rhetoric, in an attempt to win support from the masses. But let’s have a look at what the real conditions of the Iranian people are under his presidency. First of all, in Venezuela, the Bolivarian revolution has unleashed a wave of trade union organisation and militant struggle on part of the workers. President Chávez has called on the workers to occupy abandoned factories and to run them under workers’ control. In Iran the workers have no right to organise or to strike and if they break these laws they face the most brutal repression. In the case of the Tehran bus drivers, when 3,000 of them attempted to organise a union, the company replied with mass sackings, and the police attacked the trade union leaders, including the general secretary Ossalou, whose tounge the police thugs attempted to cut off.
When trade union activists in Sanandaj attempted to organise a May Day celebration in 2007, the police responded with brutal repression. Eleven of the leading activists were condemned to receive 10 lashings and to pay a fine before they were released. When some 2,000 worker activists attempted to organise a May Day celebration in Tehran this year, the police responded with brutal repression and 50 of them were arrested (some are still in jail). Millions of Iranian workers are owed unpaid wages for months. When they try to organise they face brutal police repression.
While in Venezuela the Bolivarian Revolution has put a halt to the process of privatisation of state-owned companies and renationalised many that had been privatised, in Iran, Ahmadinjead has accelerated privatisation of state-owned companies (167 privatisations in 2007/08 and a further 230 in 2008/09), including the privatisation of telecommunications, of the Isfahan Mobarakeh Steel mill, of the Isfahan Petrochemical Company, of the Kurdistan Cement Company, etc. The list of companies to be privatised include the largest petrochemical complex in the country, most large banks, gas and oil companies, the insurance sector, etc.
Even though Ahmadinejad’s government criticises US imperialism in an attempt to divert the masses from their internal problems, it is not even consequent in its struggle against this enemy which it criticises. The US military intervention in Iraq could count on the passivity of the Iranian government and ruling class, which saw the weakening of the rival Iraqi regime as an opportunity to strengthen their power in the region. Instead of favouring a unified revolutionary struggle for national liberation in the neighbouring country, the Iranian regime played a key role in putting a break to this and dividing the struggle on religious lines.
Mousavi, the “reformist” candidate, is not better. He was prime minister in the 1980s, during the massacre of 30,000 left wing activists. Now he has suddenly discovered that, without opposing the principles of the Islamic Republic, it needs to be “reformed”, that is, cosmetics changes from above are need, so that in the end all remains the same and he and his cronies can continue in power. The division between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi is the split between two sections of the reactionary regime: one which wants reforms from above in order to prevent revolution from below, and the other which wants to maintain control from above to prevent revolution from below.
However these divisions at the top have opened the space for a genuine mass movement that has challenged the regime over the past week. If there was any doubt about the revolutionary and peoples’ character of the movement of the Iranian masses, let’s see what the position of working class activists has been. The majority of workers and trade union organisations (illegal under Ahmadinejad) before the elections correctly declared that none of the candidates represented the interests of the workers and that therefore they would not advocate a vote for either of them. However, faced with the mass popular demonstrations of the last week, both the Vahed Syndicate of bus drivers and the workers at Iran Khodro, the largest car factory in the Middle East, expressed their support for the movement, and in the case of Khodro, came out on strike for half an hour in each shift. Now revolutionary activists in Iran are discussing the calling of a general strike against the regime and for democratic freedoms.
Clearly, as revolutionaries, we must oppose any imperialist interference in Iran. President Chávez has correctly supported Iran in international forums in the last few years against imperialist bullying on the part of the US. However, it would be fatal to mix up revolution with counter-revolution. The Bolivarian revolution must be on the side of the Iranian people, the workers, youth and women, who are in the streets of Tehran and the other cities carrying out their own Caracazo, or their own April 13, against the hated counter-revolutionary regime of the Islamic Republic.
On June 18, president Chávez once again congratulated Ahmadinejad on his reelection as a president and added the “solidarity of Venezuela in the face of the attack by world capitalism against the people of that country”. The Revolutionary Marxist Current in Venezuela, disagrees with this position and we would like to contribute to the debate with the above observations.
The images of brutal repression against the youth and workers of Iran and the realisation that in Iran a young student or a worker can go to jail for the simple act of organising a strike, creating a trade union or demonstrating against the state or the bosses, has caused a massive outrage against the Iranian government on the part of workers and youth all over the world. Several counter-revolutionary intellectuals and the mass media at the service of imperialism, conscious of this, are attempting – with the cynicism and demagogy which characterise them – to identify Venezuela with Iran, and an honest anti-imperialist and revolutionary president like Chávez with Ahmadinejad. An example of this is the recent article in Spain’s El País, which quotes Chávez's latest Alo Presidente broadcast.
With this comparison they want to saw confusion amongst workers around the world, weaken the sympathy and support for the Venezuelan revolution and undermine it as a point of reference for millions around the world. It is precisely for this reason that Venezuelan revolutionary workers and youth can only counter this campaign by opening a serious debate about the real character of the Iranian regime, studying its history and the current situation, and showing our solidarity with our Iranian class brothers and sisters in their struggle to conquer, through mass action, the same rights that Venezuelan workers have today. At the same time we must fight and denounce both the government’s repression against our brothers and sisters as well as the demagogy and manoeuvres of imperialism.
The Revolutionary Marxist Current stands in support of the revolutionary movement of the Iranian masses against the Islamic Republic, and particularly the movement of Iranian workers for democratic rights and economic demands, while at the same time we reject any imperialist interference.
Venezuela, June 22, 2009
Venezuela and Iran, diplomatic relations, trade deals and revolutionary foreign policy by the International Marxist Tendency (July 21, 2006)