Iran: (Video) Not a Twitter revolution, not a CIA revolution

By Reese Erlich

June 26, 2009 -- Iran is not undergoing a ``Twitter Revolution''. The term simultaneously mischaracterizes and trivialises the important mass movement developing in Iran. Here’s how it all began. The Iranian government prohibited foreign reporters from traveling outside Tehran without special permission, and later confined them to their hotel rooms and offices. CNN and other cable networks were particularly desperate to find ways to show the large demonstrations and government repression. So they turned to internet sites such as Facebook and Twitter in a frantic effort to get information. Since reporters were getting most of their information from Tweets and You Tube video clips, the notion of a “Twitter Revolution” was born.

We reporters love a catch phrase and, Twitter being all a flutter in the West, it seemed to fit. It’s a catchy phrase but highly misleading.

First of all the vast majority of Iranians have no access to Twitter. While reporting in Tehran, I personally didn’t encounter anyone who used it regularly. A relatively small number of young, economically well off Iranians do use Twitter. A larger number have access to the Internet. However, in the beginning, most demonstrations were organised through word of mouth, mobile phone calls and text messaging.

But somehow “Text Messaging Revolution” doesn’t have that modern, sexy ring, especially if you have to type it with your thumbs on a tiny keyboard.

More importantly, by focusing on the latest in Internet communications, cable TV networks intentionally or unintentionally characterise a genuine mass movement as something supported mainly by the Twittering classes.

I witnessed tens of thousands of mostly young people coming out into the streets in spontaneous campaign rallies in the days leading up to the election – most of whom had never heard of Twitter.

They shared a common joy not only campaigning for reformist Mirhossein Mousavi, but in being able to freely express themselves for the first time in many years. When the government announced an overwhelming victory for hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad only two hours after the polls closed, people became furious.

Over the next few days, hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets in Tehran and cities around the country. They organised silent marches through word of mouth and phone calls since the government had shut down text messaging just prior to the election. Contrary to popular perception, these gatherings included women in chadors, workers and clerics – not just the Twittering classes. Spontaneous marches took place in south Tehran, a decidedly poorer section of town and supposedly a stronghold for Ahmadinejad.

Iranians initially protested what they perceived as massive vote fraud, but that quickly evolved as the protests grew in size and breadth. In the week after the June 14 election, millions of Iranians vented 30 years of pent up anger at a repressive system.

Iranian youth particularly resented President Ahmadinejad’s support for religious militia attacks on unmarried young men and women walking together and against women not covering enough hair with their hijab. Workers resented the 24 per cent annual inflation that robbed them of real wage increases. Independent trade unionists had been fighting for decent wages and for the right to organise.

Some demonstrators wanted a more moderate Islamic government. Others advocated a separation of mosque and state, and a return to parliamentary democracy. They are well aware that when Iran had a genuine parliamentary system under Prime Minister Mossadegh, the CIA overthrew it in 1953 in order to promote the Shah as dictator. I didn’t meet any Iranians calling for US intervention; that’s strictly a debate inside the Washington beltway.

Some Iranian friends have asked me why Supreme Leader Sayyed Ali Khamenei would throw his support behind Ahmadinejad when his presidency was so clearly damaging the country at home and abroad. Initially, Khamenei supported the president because they share common ideological and political positions. Later, the top clerical leaders saw the mass movement that coalesced around Mousavi’s campaign as a direct threat to government stability and their future rule.

Since June 21, the top clerics, military and intelligence services have mobilised their entire apparatus to crush the movement for social and economic change.

The mass movement that sprang forth in the past few weeks has been 30 years in coming. It’s not a Twitter Revolution, nor even a “velvet revolution” like those in Eastern Europe.

It’s a genuine Iranian mass movement made up of students, workers, women and middle-class folks. It may not be strong enough to topple the system today but is sowing the seeds for future struggles.

[Reese Erlich is a freelance journalist and author from the United States. His books include the 2003 best-seller, Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You, 2007's The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of US Policy and the Middle-East Crisis, and his newest release Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba. He has produced many radio documentaries, including a series hosted by Walter Cronkite.]


When I returned from covering the Iranian elections recently, I was surprised to find my email box filled with progressive authors, academics and bloggers bending themselves into knots about the current crisis in Iran. They cite the long history of U.S. interference in Iran and conclude that the current unrest there must be sponsored or manipulated by the Empire.


That comes as quite a shock to those risking their lives daily on the streets of major Iranian cities fighting for political, social and economic justice.


Some of these authors have even cited my book, The Iran Agenda, as a source to prove U.S. meddling. Whoa there, pardner. Now we're getting personal.


The large majority of American people, particularly leftists and progressives, are sympathetic to the demonstrators in Iran, oppose Iranian government repression and also oppose any U.S. military or political interference in that country. But a small and vocal number of progressives are questioning that view, including authors writing for Monthly Review online, Foreign Policy Journal, and prominent academics such as retired professor James Petras.


They mostly argue by analogy. They correctly cite numerous examples of CIA efforts to overthrow governments, sometimes by manipulating mass demonstrations. But past practice is no proof that it's happening in this particular case. Frankly, the multi-class character of the most recent demonstrations, which arose quickly and spontaneously, were beyond the control of the reformist leaders in Iran, let alone the CIA.


Let's assume for the moment that the U.S. was trying to secretly manipulate the demonstrations for its own purposes. Did it succeed? Or were the protests reflecting 30 years of cumulative anger at a reactionary system that oppresses workers, women, and ethnic minorities, indeed the vast majority of Iranians? Is President Mahmood Ahmadinejad a "nationalist-populist," as claimed by some, and therefore an ally against U.S. domination around the world? Or is he a repressive, authoritarian leader who actually hurts the struggle against U.S. hegemony?


Let's take a look. But first a quick note.


As far as I can tell none of these leftist critics have actually visited Iran, at least not to report on the recent uprisings. Of course, one can have an opinion about a country without first-hand experience there. But in the case of recent events in Iran, it helps to have met people. It helps a lot.


The left-wing Doubting Thomas arguments fall into three broad categories.



1. Assertion: President Mahmood Ahmadinejad won the election, or at a minimum, the opposition hasn't proved otherwise.


Michael Veiluva, Counsel at the Western States Legal Foundation (representing his own views) wrote on the Monthly Review website:


 "[U.S. peace groups] are quick to denounce the elections as ‘massively fraudulent' and generally subscribe to the ‘mad mullah' stereotype of the current political system in Iran.   There is a remarkable convergence between the tone of these statements and the American right who are hypocritically beating their chests over Iran's ‘stolen' election.



Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, James Petras wrote:


"[N]ot a single shred of evidence in either written or observational form has been presented either before or a week after the vote count. During the entire electoral campaign, no credible (or even dubious) charge of voter tampering was raised."



Actually, Iranians themselves were very worried about election fraud prior to the vote count. When I covered the 2005 elections, Ahmadinejad barely edged out Mehdi Karoubi in the first round of elections. Karoubi raised substantive arguments that he was robbed of his place in the runoff due to vote fraud. But under Iran's clerical system, there's no meaningful appeal. So, as he put it, he took his case to God.


On the day of the 2009 election, election officials illegally barred many opposition observers from the polls. The opposition had planned to use text messaging to communicate local vote tallies to a central location. The government shut down SMS messaging! So the vote count was entirely dependent on a government tally by officials sympathetic to the incumbent.


I heard many anecdotal accounts of voting boxes arriving pre-stuffed and of more ballots being printed than are accounted for in the official registration numbers. It seems unlikely that the Iranian government will allow meaningful appeals or investigations into the various allegations about vote rigging.


A study by two professors at Chatham House and the Institute of Iranian Studies at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, took a close look at the official election results and found some major discrepancies. For Ahmadinejad to have sustained his massive victory in one third of Iran's provinces, he would have had to carry all his supporters, all new voters, all voters previously voting centrist and about 44% of previous reformist voters.


Keep in mind that Ahmadinejad's victory takes place in the context of a highly rigged system. The Guardian Council determines which candidates may run based on their Islamic qualifications. As a result, no woman has ever been allowed to campaign for president and sitting members of parliament were disqualified because they had somehow become un-Islamic.


The constitution of Iran created an authoritarian theocracy in which various elements of the ruling elite could fight out their differences, sometimes through elections and parliamentary debate, sometimes through violent repression. Iran is a classic example of how a country can have competitive elections without being democratic.



2. Assertion: The U.S. has a long history of meddling in Iran, so it must be behind the current unrest.


Jeremy R. Hammond writes in the progressive website Foreign Policy Journal: "[G]iven the record of U.S. interference in the state affairs of Iran and clear policy of regime change, it certainly seems possible, even likely, that the U.S. had a significant role to play in helping to bring about the recent turmoil in an effort to undermine the government of the Islamic Republic.


Eric Margolis, a columnist for Quebecor Media Company in Canada and a contributor to The Huffington Post, wrote:


"While the majority of protests we see in Tehran are genuine and spontaneous, Western intelligence agencies and media are playing a key role in sustaining the uprising and providing communications, including the newest electronic method, via Twitter. These are covert techniques developed by the US during recent revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia that brought pro-US governments to power."



Both authors cite numerous cases of the U.S. using covert means to overthrow legitimate governments. The CIA engineered large demonstrations, along with assassinations and terrorist bombings, to cause confusion and overthrow the parliamentary government of Iran' Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. The U.S. used similar methods in an effort to overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002. (For more details, see my book, Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba.)


Hammond cites my book The Iran Agenda and my interview on Democracy Now to show that the Bush Administration was training and funding ethnic minorities in an effort to overthrow the Iranian government in 2007.


All the arguments are by analogy and implication. Neither the above two authors, nor anyone else of whom I am aware, offers one shred of evidence that the Obama Administration has engineered, or even significantly influenced, the current demonstrations.


Let's look at what actually happened on the ground. Tens of millions of Iranians went to bed on Friday, June 12, convinced that either Mousavi had won the election outright or that there would be runoff between him and Ahmadinejad. They woke up Saturday morning and were stunned. "It was a coup d'etat," several friends told me. The anger cut across class lines and went well beyond Mousavi's core base of students, intellectuals and the well-to-do.


Within two days hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating peacefully in the streets of Tehran and other major cities. Could the CIA have anticipated the vote count, and on two days notice, mobilized its nefarious networks? Does the CIA even have the kind of extensive networks that would be necessary to control or even influence such a movement? That simultaneously gives the CIA too much credit and underestimates the independence of the mass movement.


As for the charge that the CIA is providing advanced technology like Twitter, pleaaaaaase. In my commentary carried on Reuters, I point out that the vast majority of Iranians have no access to Twitter and that the demonstrations were mostly organized by cell phone and word of mouth.


Many Iranians do watch foreign TV channels via satellite. A sat dish costs only about $100 with no monthly fees, so they are affordable even to the working class. Iranians watched BBC, VOA and other foreign channels in Farsi, leading to government assertions of foreign instigation of the demonstrations. By that logic, Ayatollah Khomeini received support from Britain in the 1979 revolution because of BBC radio's critical coverage of the despotic Shah.


Frankly, based on my observations, no one was leading the demonstrations. During the course of the week after the elections, the mass movement evolved from one protesting vote fraud into one calling for much broader freedoms. You could see it in the changing composition of the marches. There were not only upper middle class kids in tight jeans and designer sun glasses. There were growing numbers of workers and women in very conservative chadors.


Iranian youth particularly resented President Ahmadinejad's support for religious militia attacks on unmarried young men and women walking together and against women not covering enough hair with their hijab. Workers resented the 24 percent annual inflation that robbed them of real wage increases. Independent trade unionists were fighting for decent wages and for the right to organize.


Some demonstrators wanted a more moderate Islamic government. Others advocated a separation of mosque and state, and a return to parliamentary democracy they had before the 1953 coup. But virtually everyone believes that Iran has the right to develop nuclear power, including enriching uranium. Iranians support the Palestinians in their fight against Israeli occupation, and they want to see the U.S. get out of Iraq.


So if they CIA was manipulating the demonstrators, it was doing a piss poor job.


Of course, the CIA would like to have influence in Iran. But that's a far cry from saying it does have influence. By proclaiming the omnipotence of U.S. power, the leftist critics ironically join hands with Ahmadinejad and the reactionary clerics who blame all unrest on the British and U.S.



3. Assertion: Ahmadinejad is a nationalist-populist who opposes U.S. imperialism. Efforts to overthrow him only help the U.S.


James Petras wrote: "Ahmadinejad's strong position on defense matters contrasted with the pro-Western and weak defense posture of many of the campaign propagandists of the opposition...."


"Ahmadinejad's electoral success, seen in historical comparative perspective should not be a surprise. In similar electoral contests between nationalist-populists against pro-Western liberals, the populists have won. Past examples include Peron in Argentina and, most recently, Chavez of Venezuela, [and] Evo Morales in Bolivia."



Venezuela's Foreign Ministry wrote on its website:


"The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela expresses its firm opposition to the vicious and unfounded campaign to discredit the institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, unleashed from outside, designed to roil the political climate of our brother country. From Venezuela, we denounce these acts of interference in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, while demanding an immediate halt to the maneuvers to threaten and destabilize the Islamic Revolution."


From 1953-1979, the Shah of Iran brutally repressed his own people and aligned himself with the U.S. and Israel. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran brutally repressed its own people and broke its alliance with the U.S. and Israel. That apparently causes confusion for some on the left.


I have written numerous articles and books criticizing U.S. policy on Iran, including Bush administration efforts to overthrow the Islamic government. The U.S. raises a series of phony issues, or exaggerates problems, in an effort to impose its domination on Iran. (Examples include Iran's nuclear power program, support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and support for Shiite groups in Iraq.)


During his past four years in office, Ahmadinejad has ramped up Iran's anti-imperialist rhetoric and posed himself as a leader of the Islamic world. That accounts for his fiery rhetoric against Israel and his denial of the Holocaust. (Officially, Ahmadinejad "questions" the Holocaust and says "more study is necessary." That reminds me of the creationists who say there needs to be more study because evolution is only a theory.) As pointed out by the opposition candidates, Ahmadinejad's rhetoric about Israel and Jews has only alienated people around the world and made it more difficult for the Palestinians.


But in the real world, Ahmadinejad has done nothing to support the Palestinians other than sending some funds to Hamas. Despite rhetoric from the U.S. and Israel, Iran has little impact on a struggle that must be resolved by Palestinians and Israelis themselves.


So comparing Ahmadinejad with Chavez or Evo Morales is absurd. I have reported from both Venezuela and Bolivia numerous times. Those countries have genuine mass movements that elected and kept those leaders in power. They have implemented significant reforms that benefitted workers and farmers. Ahmadinejad has introduced 24% annual inflation and high unemployment.


As for the position of Venezuela and President Hugo Chavez, they are simply wrong. On a diplomatic level, Venezuela and Iran share some things in common. Both are under attack from the U.S., including past efforts at "regime change." Venezuela and other governments around the world will have to deal with Ahmadinejad as the de facto president, so questioning the election could cause diplomatic problems.


But that's no excuse. Chavez has got it exactly backward. The popular movement in the streets will make Iran stronger as it rejects outside interference from the U.S. or anyone else. 


This is no academic debate or simply fodder for bored bloggers. Real lives are at stake. A repressive government has killed at least 17 Iranians and injured hundreds. The mass movement may not be strong enough to topple the system today but is sowing the seeds for future struggles.


The leftist critics must answer the question: Whose side are you on? 








Freelance foreign correspondent Reese Erlich covered the recent elections in Iran and their aftermath. He is the author of The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis. (Polipoint Press)

From: Z Net - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives

Having read Reese Erlich's new book on Cuba, I think he could write better than this, but this is all he came up with.
1. Reese Erlich certainly knows the US government, CIA, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to overthrow the Iranian government. But he argues that just because the US does that elsewhere, and has done it in Iran before, doesn't mean the US, CIA is doing it now.
That is a lot Reese is asking us to swallow.
2. Reese writes, "Let's assume for the moment that the U.S. was trying to secretly manipulate the demonstrations for its own purposes. Did it succeed? Or were the protests reflecting 30 years of cumulative anger at a reactionary system that oppresses workers, women, and ethnic minorities, indeed the vast majority of Iranians?"
There is no reason to have these two questions opposed in this way. They can both easily be true. US government agencies obviously used legitimate grievances in Eastern Europe to serve its purposes to topple the pro-Soviet regimes and establish pro-US governments. That does not mean the revolts were CIA creations.
3. There is no evidence the Obama administration "engineered or significantly influenced the demonstrations." Likewise, it could be said about Honduras coup. Are we just supposed to wait until the documents come out? Do we think the US government is not intimately involved with what just went on in Iran and Honduras? Erlich seems to share a certain affinity to those who think the Obama presidency has heralded a qualitative shift in the nature of the imperialist beast.
4. I have not read anyone stating the CIA wsa providing twitter to demonstrators as Reese says, and he does not give any source. I did read this article, though, but I am in no position, like almost all of us, to verify if it is true or not:
Proof: Israeli Effort to Destabilize Iran Via Twitter Iran Election
http://www.charting 2009/06/proof- israeli-effort- to-destabilize- iran-via- twitter/

5.. Erlich uses a fair amount of prejudicial rhetoric about Ahmadinejad. The fact is the Iranian govenrment has sent aid to Hamas. The US and Israel imprison the Gazans. The Egyptian government helps institute the blockade. Let's cut the rhetoric - do you support the blockade of Gaza or do you support sending the Palestinians in Gaza aid?
6.. Finally, if Reese wants to ask 'Which side are you on?" let's see what Chavez says:
"Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused the CIA of being behind anti-government protests rocking Iran, and repeated his support for Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Chavez, who has tried to cultivate ties with the Islamic republic, said the “imperial hand” of the US Central Intelligence Agency — and of Europe — was behind post-election clashes that had killed at least 17 people.
“People are in the streets, some are dead, they have snipers, and behind this is the CIA, the imperial hand of European countries and the United States,” Chavez said, “from my point of view that is what is happening in Iran.”
Chavez urges 'respect' for Iran election outcome:
"We call on the world to respect Iran because there are attempts to undermine the strength of the Iranian revolution," said Chavez on Sunday in his weekly radio and television address.
The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry also issued a statement blasting "the fierce and unfounded campaign from outside [of Iran] to discredit" Iran's president.
Hugo Chavez called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "a courageous fighter for the Islamic Revolution, the defense of the Third World, and in the struggle against imperialism" - a reference to the US government's foreign policy. (AP)
There has been a major imperialist campaign against Iran. That is the primary issue for us who live here in the imperialist countries: combat the campaigns of the rulers of our countries against their enemies. Whether or not we support the demonstrators, whether the election was accurate, to what extent it is a bona fide and not manipulated “democracy movement,” whether we have enough information to accurately decide, etc. is secondary.
Our primary task should be pointing out the role the CIA, the NED, the Big Business media. and other imperialist tools are playing in Iran. We should be explaining publicly and be encouraging non-interference in Iran’s affairs.
The question Reese raises, "Whose side are you on?" for Marxists needs to be addressed to: are you for or against this imperialist campaign to overthrow the Iranian government? Are you more comfortable on the same side as Israel, the US government, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Germany, or on the same side as Venezuela, Cuba, Hezbollah.

An interview with an Iranian socialist: “Electoral Fraud” and the movement in Iran today
Written by Ted Sprague Thursday, 09 July 2009
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Millions of Iranians have come out on the streets demanding a change in regime. The movement that was first sparked off by “electoral fraud” has become a movement to demand complete democratic rights and against the dictatorship of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is an interview (conducted on July 2nd 2009) with Arash Azizi, an Iranian socialist, which was originally made to explain the situation in Iran to an Indonesian audience.

Ted Sprague: Can you explain to our readers about the electoral fraud in Iran and the movement that has emerged out of it?

Millions of people have come onto the streets of Iran in a direct clash with the deadly forces of an oppressive regime. Photo by .faramarz.Millions of people have come onto the streets of Iran in a direct clash with the deadly forces of an oppressive regime. Photo by .faramarz.Arash Azizi: Well, politics works in mysterious ways! If you want to take things at face value you have to believe millions of people have come onto the streets, in a direct clash with the deadly forces of an oppressive regime just because of some “electoral fraud” between candidates that didn’t really have a difference in platform! But that is not the case. You can’t analyze events without seeing them in the context and their background.

The truth is that people participated in the elections and massively voted for Mousavi for a reason which wasn’t his platform or anything like that. People had seen the obvious splits in the ruling clique of the Islamic Republic and they wanted to use these splits. They wanted to play off one wing of the regime against the other to get rid of them all eventually. The Mousavi wing advocated lifting somewhat the repressive measures of the regime to prevent or delay the people’s uprising against the whole regime. But the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad wing couldn’t really allow that. They knew that if they concede a little bit of freedom, people will want more and eventually would not stop short of overthrowing the whole regime. That’s why they staged a “coup”, a velvet coup d’etat, if you wish. They declared Ahmadinejad the winner with a ridiculously high margin of 16 million votes. But they hadn’t expected that the people would not just go home and accept that Khamenei can just do this with impunity. They came out massively and we witnessed the largest demonstrations of the past 30 years. This wasn’t and isn’t about Mousavi anymore. Even voting for Mousavi wasn’t about Mousavi! It is about a huge population that hates life in the Islamic Republic and is willing to fight it step by step. What we now have is no longer a movement against “electoral fraud”, but a massive revolutionary movement against the Islamic Republic in its entirety. This is also revealed in people’s slogans. They started with “Give me back my Vote” but then moved on to shouting: “Down with the Dictator!” and “Down with Khamenei!” and, although to a lesser extent, “We don’t want a theocracy!”

TS: It has been three weeks since the start of the protest; can you give an update as to how this movement has developed? And who is leading it?

AA: I think I hinted at this in my previous answer. The movement started spontaneously, which is normal, even though its scope was unprecedented and extraordinary. You suddenly had more than 5 million demonstrating all over Iran! Immediately after the election, the people’s demand was of course for the repealing of the vote and giving power to Mousavi and so they perceived him as their leader. They called on him (and Karoubi, another “Reformist” candidate) to “get back their votes”. But of course Mr. Mousavi and Karoubi are much more afraid of millions of people on the streets than they are of the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad gangs.

People called on “Reformist” candidates to “get back their votes”. Photo by Milad Avazbeigi.People called on “Reformist” candidates to “get back their votes”. Photo by Milad Avazbeigi.So they decided ‑ and did their best actually to achieve this ‑ to send the people home. In the first week we had a pattern of Mousavi calling for “no demonstrations” to “save people’s lives” but then the people showed up and he had to go there and speak. He was being psuhed by the events.

Giving a concise and concrete answer to your question is hard because this “movement” is not a homogenous one and changes every movement. What is definite is that it has shown great courage, which means it is ready to fight the Islamic Republic. What is also evident is that it lacks a leadership that could lead it to the results it desires. Mousavi and Karoubi are part and parcel of this regime and they would never willingly lead an opposition movement against the regime. The people’s aim is really an end to the Islamic Republic. But they lack an effective leadership to lead them to this.

TS: The Ahmadinejad government has claimed that this movement was organized by the imperialist powers (the CIA in particular) in order to topple the regime. Is this true?

AA: Well, anybody who has lived in Iran for a while knows that for them everything is organized by Israel and the CIA. Independent intellectuals, writers, poets, journalists, even youth who just want to have fun are usually attacked in this manner. This is because oppressive regimes never want to concede that people are actually against them!

Of course this is ridiculous. This is a genuine mass movement with millions on the streets.

TS: Quite a number of people in the left support Ahmadinejad, including Chavez. What do you have to say about this?

AA: First you have to differentiate Chavez from other “Leftists”. Chavez is a head of state and he has to carry out some formalities which are acceptable as long as it is about getting trade agreements and similar questions (which are vital for Venezuela). But he is making serious mistakes in his position toward Ahmadinejad. He does not understand that the real friends of the Venezuelan Revolution are the masses of the world, including Iran. His support for the hated Ahmadinejad has unfortunately led to a feeling of hatred on the part of many Iranians towards him and the Bolivarian Revolution. I was in a solidarity demonstration recently and I heard some people claiming that Venezuela is sending police forces to crush the protesters in Tehran! While this is probably just a rumour, it shows to what degree people have feelings against him that they are circulating these rumours.

Drawing by LatuffDrawing by LatuffChavez has to reverse this position he has adopted. He actually has some leverage with the Iranian government and should have at least voiced some concern. Even if he wants to only think about the immediate benefits at this stage, I should tell him that this government of the Islamic Republic will not be in a power for long! And he had better wait for the new government to have good relations with! I am confident that he will eventually change his position, especially as many parts of the Bolivarian movement are voicing their concern over this. I, for example, read a statement by the Venezuelan Marxists (Revolutionary Marxist Current, CMR) that disagreed with Chavez over this question.

As I said, while Chavez is a head of state that has taken a lot of progressive measures, but who is making some lamentable mistakes about Iran, other leftists are just showing how disconnected they are from reality.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read on, the website of the “International Committee of the Fourth International”, that they are connecting the protests to foreign intervention. This website is actually quite popular among some Iranian leftists… or was popular I should say, as of now! I haven’t read anything from the International Socialist Tendency yet. But they have to do something about their support for the Islamic Republic over the years. Anybody on the left who has supported this regime even for a day will be seen as being so guilty when we succeed in getting rid of the Islamic Republic and establishing a workers’ state in our country. They then will have to come and kneel before the Iranian workers and socialists to be forgiven! We will forgive them then, but we will never forget how, when this regime was killing us in our thousands, they supported it.

TS: Mousavi has been portrayed as a reformist by the media, the face of democratic change in Iran. What is the feeling of ordinary Iranians towards him?

The “Reformists” are a wing of the Islamic Republic that has played a huge part in murdering tens of thousands and oppressing society. Photo by Mardetanha.The “Reformists” are a wing of the Islamic Republic that has played a huge part in murdering tens of thousands and oppressing society. Photo by Mardetanha.AA: Let me get this straight first: the “Reformists” are a wing of the Islamic Republic that has played a huge part in murdering tens of thousands and oppressing society. They are a fierce defender of the vicious Islamic regime and its founder, Khomeini. Actually their main platform has always been for a “Return to Khomeini”! This is the kind of reform they want! They remind me of a song by Phil Ochis, an American radical artist, who mockingly talks about how the Democrats and the Republicans in the US are really no different and they are all united against the people and the workers. It is the same with the “reformists” in Iran.

But how the average Iranian feels about Mousavi differs every week, if not every day. I think Iranians understand that he is part of the regime and that they don’t really want him but they are also very practical and say to themselves “he is much better than Ahmadinejad, so let’s get him for now”. He will be looked on as the leader for now, but people will soon realize he is not there to lead them to power and will pass beyond him.

TS: Now, many commentators have compared this movement to the one in 1979, the so-called Islamic Revolution, is this assessment correct?

The revolution of 1979 was hijacked by the reactionary Khomeini and mullahs.The revolution of 1979 was hijacked by the reactionary Khomeini and mullahs.AA: What is definitely incorrect is to call our Great Revolution of 1979 an “Islamic Revolution”. It was not. It was a popular revolution against the monarchy and for Freedom and Equality which was hijacked, with the help of the western governments, by the reactionary Khomeini and mullahs. You have to remember that Political Islam would have had no real chance to take power in Iran if it had not been for the aid of western governments. They found this dead corpse in the dustbin of history and brought it back to life because they realised its anti-left and oppressive potential. That needs a longer discussion…

As to the relation of the current movement to that revolution…well, if you ask me I’d like to say that I hope the current revolutionary movement will fulfil the goals that the 1979 revolution failed to achieve because of its defeat by counter-revolutionary mullahs. I also believe that the 1979 revolution, even though it was brutally defeated, provides important lessons to Iranian society and workers. Workers can remember how powerful they can be when they come onto the scene of history. The real commemoration of the memory of the 1979 revolution would be a revolutionary overthrowing of the counter-revolutionary Islamic regime which had hijacked that revolution and going toward the real goals, that are Freedom, Equality and the Well-being of the people, which by the way, are only possible under Socialism.

TS: How is this movement going to affect the political landscape in the Middle East?

AA: It has already affected the whole world, not only the Middle East. The people of the world have been inspired by the extraordinary courage that their Iranian brothers and sisters have shown. Once more they have come onto streets to fight a vicious regime. In a period of 30 years, this people have fought two of the most brutal dictatorships in human history. I think anybody who has fought even for one day against oppression and tyranny will be inspired by this people.

The conclusion of this movement has of course much more important implications in the region and internationally. The overthrowing of the Islamic Republic, in my idea, will lead to an end of Political Islam as an international movement because this movement will lose its main head. The resources for the Islamists in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria will dry up and this is only good news for the people of those countries! As I said, it will also prove to everybody that no regime is indestructible and one has to fight against dictatorships and once the collective power of the workers and people is on the scene, any regime will be brought down.

I, of course have much higher hopes for the new Iranian Revolution. I am hoping, and I will fight for, a socialist revolution that would establish a socialist republic in Iran and if that happens, if a country of 70 million people becomes socialist, an international battle will begin that will only end with the end of capitalism and will open up a new page in human history.

TS: What about the labour movement in Iran?

AA: the labour movement has its weaknesses and strengths. It lacks traditional mass organizations (like Trade Unions which are almost non-existent) but on the other hand it has great revolutionary traditions like the workers’ councils which were formed in the 1979 revolution. It also has a lot of potential militancy and has so far shown no illusions in any wing of the regime, which is extraordinary. But it is yet to decisively enter the struggle and when that happens, the fate of the Iranian revolution will be sealed.

TS: Where do you think this movement will lead? It has been 3 weeks of constant demos, how do you think it will end?

AA: I have never been a sole “predictor” of the event and I like to think myself as part of the movement that tries to move it to the left. This revolution will be stopped by a lot people at different “stations”, if you will. They will try to tell us when is the time for what, and that the time for what hasn’t come YET. The task is for a revolutionary leadership to emerge that would be accepted by the people and would lead their revolution all the way to victory, which means overthrowing the Islamic Republic and laying the foundations of a new society. My wish is for Iran to go socialist and I know this is not possible without a mass revolutionary party that would lead the workers and the people.

But apart from what I wish, one thing is for sure: Iran will never be the same again. The beginning of the end for the Islamic Republic has started and in the aftermath of the destruction of this regime, the people will have a real chance to found a humane society that would be a beacon of hope for the oppressed people all over the world.

The Tragedy of the Left's Discourse on Iran

July 10, 2009

By Saeed Rahnema

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The electoral coup and the subsequent uprising and suppression of the revolting voters in Iran have prompted all sorts of analyses in Western media from both the Right and the Left. The Right, mostly inspired by the neo-con ideology and reactionary perspectives, dreams of the re-creation of the Shah's Iran, looks for pro-American/pro-Israeli allies among the disgruntled Iranian public, and seeks an Eastern European type velvet revolution. As there is very little substance to these analyses, they are hardly worth much critical review; and one cannot expect them to try to understand the complexities of Iranian politics and society.

As for the Left in the West, confusions abound. The progressive left, from the beginning openly supported the Iranian civil society movement. Znet, Campaign for Peace and Democracy, Bullet, and some other media provided sound analysis to help others understand the complexities of the Iranian situation (see, for example, here). Some intellectuals signed petitions along with their Iranian counterparts, while others chose to remain silent. But disturbingly, like in the situations in Gaza or Lebanon, where Hamas and Hezbollah uncritically became champions of anti-imperialism, for some other people on the left, Ahmadinejad has become a champion because of his seemingly firm rhetoric against Israel and the US. Based on a crude class analysis, he is also directly or indirectly praised by some for his supposed campaign against the rich and imagined support of the working poor. These analyses also undermine the genuine movement within the vibrant Iranian civil society, and denigrate their demands for democracy, and political and individual freedoms as middle class concerns, instigated by western propaganda (a view shared by Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and his supporters).

MRZine and Islamists

The most bizarre case is the on-line journal MRZine, the offshoot of Monthly Review, which in some instances even publicized the propaganda of the Basij (Islamic militia) hooligans and criminals. The website has given ample rooms to pro-Islamist contributors; while they can hardly be considered to be on the left, their words are appreciated by the leftists editing the site. One writer claims that the battle in Iran is about "welfare reform and private property rights," and that Ahmadinejad "has enraged the managerial class," as he is "the least enthusiastic about neo-liberal reforms demanded by Iran's corporate interests," and that he is under attack by "Iran's fiscal conservative candidates." The author conveniently fails to mention that there are also much "corporate interests" controlled by Ahmadinejad's friends and allies in the Islamic Guards and his conservative cleric supporters, and that he has staunchly followed "privatization" policies by handing over state holdings to his cronies.

During the 1979 revolution, the late Tudeh Party, under the direction of the Soviet Union, was unsuccessfully digging deep and looking hard for "non-capitalists" among the Islamic regime's elements to follow a "non-capitalist path" and a "socialist orientation." Now it seems that MRZine magazine is beginning a new excavation for such a breed among Islamists, not understanding that all factions of the Islamic regime have always been staunch capitalists.

Azmi Bishara's imagined Iran

In "Iran: An Alternative Reading" (reproduced in MRZine), Azmi Bishara argues that Iran's totalitarian system of government differs from other totalitarian systems in two definitive ways: Firstly, it has incorporated "such a high degree [of] constitutionally codified democratic competition in the ruling order and its ideology." Bishara does not explain however that these "competitions" are just for the insider Islamists, and all others, including moderate Muslims or the wide spectrum of secular liberals and the left are excluded by the anti-democratic institutions within the regime.

The second differentiation Bishara makes is that "... the official ideology that permeates institutions of government ... is a real religion embraced by the vast majority of the people." He is right if he means the majority of Iranians are Muslim and Shi'i, but it is wrong to assume that all are religious and share the same obscurantist fundamentalist version as those in power. He also fails to recognize the existence of a large number of secular people in Iran, one of the highest percentages among Muslim-majority countries.

He praises "such tolerance of political diversity," "tolerance of criticism," and "peaceful rotation of authority" in Iran. One wonders if our prominent Palestinian politician is writing about an imaginary Iran, or the real one. Could it be that Bishara has not heard of the massacres of thousands of political prisoners, chain killings of intellectuals, and silencing of the most able and progressive voices in the country? Doesn't he know that a non-elected 12-member conservative body (The Guardianship Council) only allows a few trusted individuals to run for President or the Parliament, and that the real 'authority,' the Supreme Leader, does not rotate, and is selected by an all-Mullah Assembly of Experts for life? The unelected Leader leads the suppressive apparatuses of the state, and since 1993 has created his own "Special Guards of Velayat" (NOPO) for quick suppressive operations. So much for tolerance and democracy.

Bishara undermines the genuine massive reform movement and claims that "expectations regarding the power of the reform trend ... were created by Western and non-Western media opposed to Ahmadinejad...." Had Bishara done his homework, he would have learned about the massive campaigns led by large number of womens' organizations, the youth, teachers and select groups of workers. He warns us of "elitism" and of having an "arrogant classist edge," and implicitly dismisses these movements of "middle class backgrounds" and claims that "these people are not the majority of young people but rather the majority of young people from a particular class." It is unclear on what basis he makes the assertion that most of the youth from poor sectors of the society support Ahmadinejad.

James Petras' message: freedom is not "vital"!

One of the most shocking pieces is by the renowned controversial Left writer and academic, James Petras. In his piece "Iranian Elections: 'The Stolen Elections' Hoax," Petras conclusively denies any wrongdoings in the Iranian elections and confidently goes into the detail of the demographics of some small Iranian towns, with no credibility or expertise in the subject.

The abundant facts pointing to massive electoral fraud speak for themselves, so I will not waste time refuting his evidence and 'sources,' but will rather focus on his analysis. The most stunning aspect of the Petras piece is the total absence of any sympathy for all the brave women, youth, teachers, civil servants and workers who have been so vigorously campaigning for democracy, human rights, and political freedoms, risking their lives by spontaneously pouring into the streets when they realized they were cheated. Instead we see sporadic references to "comfortable upper class enclave," "well-dressed and fluent in English" youth, etc. Women are not mentioned even once, nor is there any recognition of their amazing struggle against the most obscurantist policies such as stoning, polygamy, and legal gender discriminations. Neither is there any reference to trade union activists, writers, and artists, many of whom are in jail.

Instead, the emphasis is on crude class analysis: "[t]he demography of voting reveals a real class polarization pitting high income, free market oriented capitalist individuals against working class, low income, community based supporters of a 'moral economy' in which usury and profiteering are limited by religious precepts." Petras could not be more misguided and misleading. Of course this would fit well within the perceived traditional class conflict paradigm (with an added touch of imagined Islamic economics!). However, the reality is far more complex. The Ayatollahs on both sides are "market-oriented capitalists," so are the leaders of the Islamic Guards, who run industries, control trade monopolies, and are major land developers. There are also workers on both sides. Failed economic policies, the rising 30% inflation rate, growing unemployment and the suppression of trade unions turned many workers against Ahmadinejad. The communiqués of Workers of Iran Khodrow (auto industry) against the government's heavy-handed tactics, the long strikes and confrontations of the workers of Tehran Public Transport and the participation of workers in the post-election revolts, are all examples of opposition to Ahmadinejad by workers. It would also be simplistic to talk of the Islamists' 'moral economy,' when both sides have been involved in embezzlement and corruption, much of which was exposed during the debates fiasco in which they exposed each other.

On the basis of his limited understanding of the situation, Petras declares that "[t]he scale of the opposition's electoral deficit should tell us how out of touch it is with its own people's vital concerns." Firstly, like many others he cannot distinguish among different groups and categories of this "opposition," and worse, is telling Iranian women, youth, union activists, intellectuals and artists, that their demands and "concerns" for political and individual freedoms, human rights, democracy, gender equity and labour rights are not "vital." It seems he's telling the Iranian left: rofagha (comrades), if you are being tortured and rotting in prisons, your books are burned and you are expelled from your profession, don't worry, because the "working class" is receiving subsidies and handouts from the government! Professor Petras and those like him would not be as forgiving if their own freedoms and privileges were at issue.

The left has historically been rooted in solidarity with progressive movements, women's rights and rights for unions and its voice has been first and foremost a call for freedom. The voices that we hear today from part of the Left are tragically reactionary. Siding with religious fundamentalists with the wrong assumptions that they are anti-imperialists and anti-capitalists, is aligning with the most reactionary forces of history. This is a reactionary left, different from the progressive left which has always been on the side of the forces of progress.

Zizek also misses an important point

In a much admired and distributed piece, Slavoj Zizek, the prominent voice of the new left, refers to versions of events in Iran. Zizek explains that "Moussavi supporters... see their activity as the repetition of the 1979 Khomeini revolution, as the return to its roots, the undoing of the revolution's later corruption." He adds "[w]e are dealing with a genuine popular uprising of the deceived partisans of the Khomeini revolution," "'the return of the repressed' of the Khomeini revolution."

Zizek does not differentiate between the "partisans of Khomeini" during the 1979 revolution, and the non-religious, secular elements, both liberals and Left, who actually started the revolution and in the absence of other alternatives, accepted Khomeini's leadership. Lack of recognition of this reality, that sometimes draws us to despair, is a big mistake. Along the same line, Zizek, wrongly attributes all of today's movement to support for Moussavi: "Moussavi ... stands for the genuine resuscitation of the popular dream which sustained the Khomeini revolution." On this basis he concludes that "the 1979 Khomeini revolution cannot be reduced to a hard line Islamist takeover." To substantiate his point, Zizek refers to the "incredible effervescence of the first year of the revolution...." In fact much of the 'effervescence' of the first year, or before the hostage taking at the American Embassy, was because of the actions of the non-partisans of Khomeini; from the workers councils movement, to confrontations of Fedais and other left organizations in Kurdistan and in Gonbad, to the women's and university-based movements. It was a period when Khomeini and his supporters had not consolidated their power. After the hostage crisis and beginning of the Iran-Iraq war "the Islam establishment" took over.

All these draws Zizek to conclude that "what this means is that there is genuine liberating potential in Islam." Zizek does not recognize that Moussavi is a conservative Islamist, and this "liberating potential" can hardly be applied to him. For sure, there exists a new breed of Muslim intellectuals, the likes of Mohamad Shabestari, Mohsen Kadivar, Reza Alijani, and Hassan Eshkevari, who believe in the separation of religion and state, and can be the champions of such liberating potentials, but definitely not the likes of Khomeini and Moussavi.

There is no doubt that the Iranian 1979 revolution is an unfinished business and its main demands for democracy and political freedoms, and social equity have remained unfulfilled. But these were not Khomeini's demands, in the same manner that not all today's demands are those of Moussavi.

What is happening in Iran is a spontaneous, ingenious and independent revolt by a people frustrated with thirty years of obscurantist tyrannical religious rule, triggered by electoral fraud but rooted in more substantial demands. Much to the dismay of the clerical regime and their supporters inside and outside the country, the ever expanding Iranian civil society brilliantly seized the moment of the election to take strong steps forward. They have no illusions about the Islamist regime, or about their own capabilities. Their strategy is to gradually and non-violently replace the Islamic regime and its hegemony with a secular democratic one. This is a hugely significant, delicate and protracted confrontation. It is essential that they get the wide-ranging effective support from the left in the West so that they don't fall prey to the misleading conception of the left not having concerns for democracy and civil liberties.

Saeed Rahnema is Professor of Political Science at York University, Canada

From: Z Net - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives

Marxists Must Stand Firm Against Ahmadinejad
By Maziar Razi

Open letter to the workers of Venezuela on Hugo Chávez’s support for Ahmadinejad

Honourable workers of Venezuela,

The Revolutionary Marxists of Iran are aware of your achievements as part of the Bolivarian Movement and have always supported this movement against the widespread lies and the open and covert interference of imperialism. In order to defend your invaluable movement and to confront the attacks and interference of US imperialism in Venezuela, labour and student activists in Iran have set up the ‘Hands Off Venezuela’ campaign in Iran and during the past few years have stood together with you in confronting the imperialist attacks. It is obvious that your achievements were gained under the leadership of Hugo Chávez and, for this reason, you reserve deep respect for him.

In terms of his foreign policy, however, Chávez has made a mistake. With his support for Ahmadinejad he has ignored the solidarity of the workers and students of Iran with your revolution, and in a word, made it look worthless. Most are aware that two weeks ago Ahmadinejad, with the direct support of Khamenei, committed the biggest fraud in the history of presidential elections in Iran and then, with great ferocity, spilt the blood of those protesting against this fraud. You just have to take notice of the international media reports to be aware of the depths of this tragedy. All over the world millions of workers and students, and also those of Marxist and revolutionary tendencies (which mostly are the supporters of the Bolivarian revolution), protested against these attacks.

In of spite this, Chávez was one of the first people to support Ahmadinejad. In his weekly TV speech he said: “Ahmadinejad’s triumph is a total victory. They’re trying to stain Ahmadinejad’s victory, and by doing so they aim to weaken the government and the Islamic revolution. I know they won’t be able to do it.” And that “We ask the world for respect.” These rash and baseless remarks from your President are a great and direct insult to the millions of youth who in recent days rose up against tyranny. Some of them even lost their lives. Many of these youths came out on the streets spontaneously and without becoming infected with the regime’s internal disputes, or becoming aligned with the policy that US imperialism is following for taking over the movement. In addition, the remarks of your President are an insult to millions of workers in Iran. Workers whose leaders are today being tortured in the prisons of the Ahmadinejad government and some of them are even believed to be being punished with flogging. Workers who were brutally repressed by the mercenaries of the Ahmadinejad government for commemorating May Day in Tehran this year are still in prison.

So far Chávez has travelled to Iran seven times and each time he has hugged one of the most hated people in this country and called him his “brother”. He does not realise that the economic, social and political situations of Venezuela and Iran are going in opposite directions. Although both countries have seen a similarly significant boost to their oil (and gas) revenues the contrast between the ways in which this extra money has been used by the two governments could not be more marked. In Venezuela this income is used for building hospitals, schools, universities and other infrastructure of the country, but in Iran it is used for lining the pockets of just a few parasitic capitalists.

On the one hand, in Venezuela, we have seen the nationalisation of an increasing number of companies and factories, the free provision of healthcare, education, civil liberties and so on. By contrast in Iran privatisation is on the government’s agenda, even at the cost of trampling on Article 44 of the Constitution of the country and using the excuse of inefficiency and low productivity of state companies and factories. All these advances of the workers and the poor in Venezuela have given them greater control over the way they work and the way they live. Most importantly, the expropriation of factories and the encouragement of workers’ control and participation have transformed the character of the workers’ movement in Venezuela, advancing it by many stages. The Bolivarian movement and the policies of the government have brought about a huge shift in the balance of class forces in Venezuela in favour of the working class. Not only has the government encouraged the Venezuelan workers to build the Unión Nacional de los Trabajadores as an alternative to the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), but the workers have become involved in running and managing factories and other enterprises. The whole world knows that your government has even drawn up a list of 1,149 closed-down factories and given their owners an ultimatum: re-open them under workers’ control or the government will expropriate them.

In Iran, on the other hand, on top of the lack of many basic democratic rights, the workers are also without any independent trade union rights. Today the workers of Iran do not even have a confederation like the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela. All they have are the Labour House, the Islamic Labour Councils and other anti-working class bodies tied to the state.

But this has not always been so: the overthrow of the Shah brought about many freedoms for workers including, in some cases, control over production and even distribution. Then, however, through repression the Islamic hierarchy managed to take back all the workers’ gains. The leaders that your President hugs killed thousands of workers, destroyed the workers’ movement and pushed it back by several decades. In Iranian society even the ‘yellow’ pro-boss unions - that the Shah had tolerated - became and remain illegal. Even a CTV-style trade union confederation is illegal in Iran.

In Iran the official (and underestimated) unemployment rate stands at 10.85 per cent, with unemployment among the youth (15-24 year-olds) standing at 22.35 per cent. Even when workers are employed they are often not paid - in many cases for more than a year. Even those who get their wages face an impossible task in paying for the basic necessities of life, because their wage is not enough for living costs. For example, with the rent for a two-bedroom flat at $422 a month, a civil servant on $120 wages, or a teacher on $180, or even a doctor on $600 a month struggle to survive. It is no wonder that some 90 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.

The capitalist government of Iran has no fundamental disagreements or contradictions with US imperialism. It is in a ‘cold war’ with America and when it receives enough concessions, it will quickly enter into political dealings with the US and will turn its back on you. Indeed, the Iran regime has already helped the Americans in their military invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq - and installing the puppet regimes of Karzai and Maliki through significant trade, security and other deals. The capitalist government of Iran, despite the current apparent differences, is busy in close negotiations with the Obama government on resolving the problems of Afghanistan. This government, despite the “anti-imperialist” rhetoric, is heading towards re-establishing old links with the US. Ahmadinejad’s selection demonstrates the final turn of the regime towards resolving its problems with imperialism. Despite all the “enmity” and “anti-imperialist” gestures the regime is ready to resolve all its differences with America. The government of Iran wants to turn Iran into a society like Colombia (in Colombia thousands of trade unionists have been killed so that multinational companies can exploit workers and plunder the country’s natural resources without any obstacles). It is not without reason that the Iranian government has been implementing the bankrupt neo-liberal prescriptions of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and counting the minutes until it joins the World Trade Organisation.

The close and regular links of your leader, Chávez, with the leaders of this regime will eventually make the Iranian masses turn their back on the great lessons of the revolutionary process in Venezuela. Winning the hearts and minds of the masses in Iran and similar countries is the best long-term solution to breaking Washington’s stranglehold on Latin America. Your leader’s closeness with the capitalist government of Iran, a government that has the blood of thousands of workers and youth on its hands, shows that his anti-imperialist foreign policy has a major flaw. Being close to reactionary regimes will never be able to bring the anti-imperialist foreign policy to a successful conclusion. Only the unity of the real representatives of the workers and toilers can confront imperialism.

Stand together with the Iranian workers and condemn the foreign policy of your leaders. Support for Ahmadinejad means support for the repression of Iranian workers and youth. Challenge the flawed positions of Chávez and reject them. Support for the government of Ahmadinejad, especially after the recent events, is at worst an open betrayal of the toilers of Iran and at best a political blunder in foreign policy.