Iran: Ruling class divided

Over one million people gathered in Tehran on 15 June to protest against the results of the 12 June presidential election. This was the largest rally in the city since the 1978-79 Iranian revolution which overthrew the Shah. The crowds were drawn from all social classes and they presented the Islamic Republic with its most serious internal challenge in 30 years. However, the majority of the protestors supported the defeated candidate, former Prime Minister Mousavi, who has no intention of threatening the state, but rather seeks to adjust its policies away from those of President Ahmadinejad. A combination of state repression, the intervention of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in support of Ahmadinejad, and lack of leadership, resulted in the protests subsiding – for now.

The Iranian revolution produced a victorious alliance of the bazaar or merchant bourgeoisie and the clerical establishment at the expense of socialists and the working class. Many socialists were killed by both the Shah’s regime and the Islamic Republic that succeeded it. New factions of the bourgeoisie have emerged and are competing for power within the state. These tensions surfaced during the presidential campaign and provided a political space in which mass discontent was expressed.

Half of Iran’s 70 million people were born after the revolution. Following migration from the countryside 44% of the urban population live in slums. Such conditions, combined with the absence of established political parties, make for a volatile electorate; all the more so as economic hardship has bitten deeply. Inflation is officially 25% but is really far higher. Unemployment is 30% and record numbers of Iranians are living in poverty. Property prices collapsed in 2008, industrial production is close to half of capacity, debts go unpaid, including from private banks to the state bank. Oil provides 50% of the country’s income but falling oil prices have driven it down in the past year. Factions of the ruling class want to encourage US and European investment in the oil and gas industry and view Ahmadinejad as a menace to this because of the positions his government has taken on Israel and imperialism and its strident defence of nuclear enrichment provoking sanctions against Iran.

All presidential candidates were vetted by the cleric-run Guardian Council and all of them were capitalists. Ahmadinejad was supported by the Supreme Leader Khamenei, the three million-strong Revolutionary Guards and the affiliated Basij militia. The Revolutionary Guards have substantial investments in industry and finance. Mousavi’s backers included senior clerics, former president Khatami, the mayor of Tehran and notably Ayatollah Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani personifies the ‘millionaire mullahs’; his family is one of the richest in Iran: one brother owns the country’s largest copper mine, another heads the state television network, a cousin dominates the pistachio business and his sons control parts of the oil and construction industries. However, Mousavi also had backing from trade unions and sections of the women’s movement. For these people Mousavi represented an opportunity to push for democratic reforms and against religious oppression. Mousavi promised pro-business policies, accelerated privatisation and a solution to the housing crisis. He received significant support from the bazaar capitalists. 
The votes were counted by the Interior Ministry, led by a supporter of Ahmadinejad, and it reported that 39 million people, 85% of the electorate, had voted, with 63% for Ahmadinejad and 34% for Mousavi. To many Iranians this was implausible and they protested in several cities. The state responded by banning demonstrations, threatening people with execution and sending out thousands of armed Revolutionary Guards and Basijis. At least 20 people were killed, maybe many more, and 4,000 Mousavi supporters were arrested. Foreign journalists were expelled, newspapers and websites were shut down and telecommunications were disrupted. The government claimed that the ‘hand’ of Britain was behind the protests and nine British embassy staff were arrested. On 17 July Rafsanjani gave a sermon at Tehran University, saying that the regime was in crisis and criticising the repression of the protestors. Crowds chanted ‘Death to the dictator’, ‘Death to Russia’ and ‘Death to China’– Russia and China recognised the Ahmadinejad victory. Rafsanjani made no criticism of Khamenei and must be seeking to pressure dominant clerics against Ahmadinejad and the faction he represents.

US manoeuvres
Between 2005 and 2009 the US Congress allocated $400 million to ‘promote democracy’ in Iran. Also, the CIA funds armed groups against the Iranian state. On 27 May the Daily Telegraph reported on CIA plans for ‘a propaganda and disinformation campaign intended to destabilise, and eventually topple’ the Islamic Republic. On 21 June CNN interviewed former National Security Adviser to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski. Brzezinski said of the founding of the Solidarity movement in Poland in 1980, ‘I was up to my ears in dealing with it and trying to steer and manipulate it.’ On regime change in Iran Brzezinski said that it was desirable and would provide ‘greater accommodation’ to the US, but it requires ‘intelligent manipulation’. Brzezinski additionally played a role in gathering the counter-revolutionary mujahedeen in Afghanistan. He is close to the current US government.

US President Obama has dropped the demand that Iran stop enriching uranium before negotiations between the US and Iran can take place. He also apologised for the US and British coup against the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953. The US will seek to encourage elements in the Iranian ruling class whose interests are threatened by economic sanctions and who want closer ties to US and European imperialism to advance their businesses and positions. This will be done covertly. If subtle methods fail, the US will consider force. On 5 July US Vice President Biden said, ‘If the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, [and] they have to take out the nuclear programme militarily, the United States will not stand in the way...We cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can or cannot do...’ Senior US military commanders continue claiming that Iran supports the Taliban in Afghanistan. For socialists in Britain we must oppose all attempts by the US and British states to intervene in Iran, oppose all sanctions against the country and military threats from the US, Israel and Britain.
Trevor Rayne

FRFI 210 August / September 2009


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