Iran: The revolution is coming

FRFI 150 August / September 1999

The overthrow of the Shah in 1979 was one of the most popular revolutions of the 20th century, with millions of people taking part. Its tone was anti-imperialist and its content democratic. The left made its mark through anti-imperialist slogans against the USA and capitalism in general, but lacked any specific programme for transformation of social and political structures. The left at the time was influenced by guerilla movements in Latin America and experiences of China and the Soviet Union, but had little contact with the workers who were the social base of the revolution.

Khomaini, a shrewd politician, placed himself at the helm of the revolution and hijacked the anti-imperialist slogan from the left by taking over the US Embassy in Tehran. He forced the left and the masses to accept his lead, which amounted to little more than spitting on and burning the US flag. Khomaini called this the second revolution.

Then came the October Surprise — Khomaini’s conspiracy with Ronald Reagan’s election team and elements of the CIA against President Carter’s reelection bid. This involved a request by the Reagan team not to release the US hostages during Carter’s presidency in order to weaken his campaign. Meanwhile, Reagan promised that all the hostages would be released within a week of his election. In return, Reagan offered to release Iranian military and financial assets. Many on the left in Iran were taken by surprise when the Irangate episode was exposed and the ‘anti-imperialist’ Islamic regime was found to be conspiring with the CIA, Israel and CIA-backed Contras in Nicaragua.

In the 20 years since the Islamic counter-revolution, the regime has murdered close to 100,000 political prisoners from many communist, socialist and left groups as well as from Mojahedin, a religious group. Their tormentors raped every woman and teenage girl facing the firing squad.1 Women have been degraded to second-class citizens. All workers’ associations, including shoras or workers’ councils, were disbanded and thousands of activists in the factories killed. The level of real wages fell from $11 to $1 a day.2

Today in Iran there is not a single independent union, no collective bargaining and strike action is illegal. Attacks against national minorities like the Kurds and religious minorities continue unabated. The war with Iraq to export Islamic counter-revolution to the region also brought devastation, a million dead or injured and a total damage of $500 billion.

In the past four years we have witnessed spontaneous uprisings in Tehran-Islamshahr, Ghazvin, Arak, Tabriz, Mashad, Shiraz, Kurdistan, and Baluchestan, practically covering every major industrial section of the country. In many of these uprising tens of thousands took part and fought against the Islamic Guards and the Basige and other Islamic vigilantes called Hizbollah. To suppress these mass uprisings – whose leaders the Islamic regime called ‘paid agents of the Great Satan USA and Israel’ – tanks, machine guns, and helicopter gunships were used against civilians.

In this same period the Islamic regime initiated an IMF and World Bank Economic Structural Reform Program. The results were falling oil prices, increasing foreign debt – around $30 to $40 billion – large military expenditure, negative growth rates and negative investment for the entire 20 years after the overthrow of the Shah. Islamic economics have pushed per capita production and income down to the levels of forty years ago.3

The Central Bank of Iran announced this week that in the current fiscal year it will be forced to reschedule part of its debt and the interest; it is now defaulting on a total of $7.6 billion. This represents about 50% of total annual revenue from the oil sector, which brings in 98% of foreign exchange. Unemployment stands at over 50% and inflation has been running at 10,000%. These are just some of the underlying social and economic factors behind the present revolutionary crisis.

Workers are mobilising in the factories, students in the universities and a million unemployed on the streets. Workers have taken bosses hostage, in order to get wages owed for a year. Barricades erected by the workers and fighting against the Islamic Guards have become a norm of the workers’ struggle. I recently received a report from Iran that oil workers have called for a national strike, and electricity and water industry workers support the strike action.4 In the 1979 revolution, the support of the water and electricity industry workers for the oil workers’ strike was crucial.

In the past few months two liberal opposition leaders – Parvaneh Forouhar, a woman of 70, and her husband Daryush Forouhar, of the National Front – and five other writers and intellectuals have been butchered in Tehran by VAVAK, the state security forces. State officials admitted the killings but argued that the CIA and Israel must have planned the murders to weaken the Islamic regime!

Over the last few months, students throughout Iran have opposed a new anti-democratic law, demanded freedom for political prisoners and the prosecution of the murderers. On 9 July a moderate pro-Islamic paper was closed for publishing a letter from one of the killers. Students led a demonstration in support of that paper. Then the security forces and the vigilantes attacked the university dormitories at 3am on 10 July; four students were killed, many injured and 1,400 arrested. This led to an uprising which within six days had spread through the whole country. It was quickly radicalised by associating calls for prosecution of the murderers with the demand for the removal of the so-called spiritual leader of the Islamic regime, Khamenei. In more than ten major cities, thousands came to the streets in support of students’ demands.5 That uprising was bloodily suppressed, but this is the beginning of the coming revolution in Iran.

Reza Ghaffari
  1. R. Ghaffari, An eyewitness Report of Islamic Regime’s Prisons in Iran.
  2. R. Ghaffari: The Economic Consequences of Islamic Fundamentalism in Iran: The Political Economy of Islamic Regime of Iran: 1979-1994. Capital and Class. No.56 summer 1995, pp106-107.
  3. Ibid. pp105 and 112.
  4. BBC World Service, Persian language Broadcasting at 6.00pm, 19 July 1999.
  5. The Economist reported the coming revolution in Iran by the Iranian students.


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