A little humility is called for in making an assessment of what is at stake in Iran, not only for the sake of the courageous students and others who are in the firing line of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s thugs and secret police. Getting it right about the essence of independent mass movements is not just an Iranian question.
Ahmadinejad’s slogan of “death to US imperialism” and the attacks on Britain are being churned out as a desperate ploy to hold sway over a rebellious population who want their basic democratic rights and to come out of the shadows of a theocratic state. In Iran, as in Britain, there is a crisis of legitimacy for the state regime and all sorts of devices, including nationalism, are being used to prop up the political system.
Supporters of Mir Hossein Moussavi are continuing to defy the government-imposed ban on demonstrations, arrests, riot police and the thugs of the Basiji militia but now under conditions of fear and terror. Photographs and videos are having to be smuggled out since the regime has clamped down on the internet and live reporting.
On Saturday the state media said that 13 died in clashes with riot police, bringing the official death toll to at least 20. At least 457 people have been arrested, including the family of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani, who is 75, heads the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body which has the power to dismiss or appoint the Supreme Leader, a post presently filled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has staked his position on suppressing the demonstrations.
As the unresolved issues from the 1979 revolution that toppled Shah Reza Pahlavi rumble through all levels of society, the seismic shocks of a new mass popular movement are exposing those who, behind their “left” words, reject the ability of the masses to make a challenge for political and state power. Amongst them is Guardian “left” journalist Seumus Milne, who has suggested that the anti-government movement led by Mousavi is simply a US-Western inspired attempt to “neutralise” Iran, thus echoing the words of Khamenei who has denounced Britain as a conspirator against his rule.
Milne and his co-thinkers in the “anti-imperialist” camp seem to have missed the fact that young people inside Tehran are desperately pleading for support. Among those who Milne dismisses as “the gilded youth” of Tehran are students who are laying down their lives.
As an Irish blogger notes: “I wonder if it ever occurred to the likes of Milne that the men and women protesting in Iran are not ‘gilded youth’ but people who are frustrated not only by what they see as a blatantly fraudulent election; they are frustrated by life in an oppressive society, frustrated at being second class citizens (in the case of many of the women, frustrated at high inflation, frustrated at high unemployment). They are angry and they want change.”
Milne is not the only voice on the “left” that finds it impossible to believe that millions are ready to risk all to rid themselves of the backward nationalism and anti-Semitism that characterises the Ahmadinejad regime. As blogger Bill Weinberg notes, other lefts such as “the retro-Stalinist Workers World and its International Action Center” and “Monthly Review and the World Socialist Website have weighed in for Ahmadinejad and dissed the protesters as dupes or pawns of US imperialism. How interesting to see these supposed ‘leftists’ making common cause with right-wing cheerleaders for authoritarian regimes...”
The divisions within the top of Iranian society – Mousavi held leading posts in the Islamic Republic after the revolution of 1979 – reflect the deep movements below in society at large. A secular way forward towards a democratic society based on common ownership and control of the country’s resources is what’s at stake.
Achieving that will require a new, revolutionary leadership in Iran, as elsewhere. A mass movement against the state such as has emerged in Iran, with its growing independence from old leaders, has to be supported, not for what might be achieved in the short term in terms of the disputed presidential election but for the prospects that it holds for deep-going transformation in the longer term.
A World to Win secretary