Mobilizations in Iran target the regime

By FLORENCE OPPEN

Mobilizations have been continuing in Iran following the killing of an Kurdish Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, by the state’s Guidance Patrol on Sept. 16, 2022. So far, more than 1200 people have been detained, and at least 200 protesters have been killed by the police, among them 16-year-old Nika Shakarami, who was very active in the protests and who appeared dead after having been chased by police [1]. The government has strongly coerced the family into denying any police involvement in her death, but the parents are speaking up [2].

This movement against the mandatory hijab laws, which a 2020 study shows are rejected by 72% of Iranians and only supported by 15%, is growing wider, with protests in more than 80 cities, and bringing in demands for other democratic freedoms as well as economic demands [3]. The protesters are now targeting the Raisi government and the Islamic Republic regime in general.

Some sectors of the working class are joining in, and the youth are now entering more fully into the movement, so the combination of all these social forces and demands has the potential of toppling the regime if they coalesce into a clear leadership and manage to defeat the repression and attempts to discredit the movement. In our analysis of the situation in Iran, however, we must also bring in an analysis of the deepening economic crisis in the country since 2018. The economic instability in Iran and worsening living conditions are directly related to both the crony capitalism of the oppressive Iranian regime and the enrichment of elites at the expense of the public, as well as the imposition of U.S sanctions in the country, which have only harmed everyday Iranians, and not the regime. We want to offer some context for this last wave of outrage, where women are playing a vanguard role, and to propose a socialist viewpoint on the struggle.

Women, youth, and labor are joining in the struggle

On Saturday, Oct. 1, Iranians living abroad organized demonstrations in more than 150 cities across the world to express solidarity with the protesters and condemn the repression of the government, with thousands attending in each city. This movement, started and led by women, and organized initially via social media, has gathered the support of two important labor sectors, teachers, shopkeepers, and oil workers.

The Coordinating Council of Iranian Educators’ Trade Union initially supported the first demonstrations by calling for a two-day strike. They stated, “The teachers, who have been engaged in a wave of strikes and protests since last December, wrote that the uprising shows Iran is still alive and active, and does not bow down in the face of oppression” [4]. But the brutal and ongoing repression of the regime has further radicalized the people to the point that youth and other sectors of the labor movement, which were active in the recent past, are also joining in.

The same teacher federation is doubling down in its support of women and democratic rights, combining it with its own economic demands, and helping organize the youth. The Coordinating Council posted on Telegram “calling on teachers and students to boycott classes on Monday, October 4 and Wednesday, October 6” in protest against the widespread repression of popular protests, the garrisoning of some schools and the arrest of students and street protesters [5].

Teachers are organizing with the youth, denouncing the “garrisoning” of schools and universities, and the union federation has denounced the fact that “some of the country’s schools have been turned into military bases to suppress the protesters.” They have also complained about the conditions of detention of youth and university students, who sometimes are put in solitary confinement.

University students are also joining in and, so far, they have organized solidarity actions on many campuses across Iran. Last week, the riot police surrounded the prestigious Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, carrying out several arrests [6].

The Council for Organizing Protests of Contract Oil Workers, an independent union that helped organize strikes last year among temporary contract workers in the oil industry (these workers make up a majority of the entire oil workforce) [7], issued a clear warning to the government, “We support the people’s struggles against organized and everyday violence against women and against the poverty and hell that dominates the society,” and threatened strike action [8]. And on Oct. 10, some sectors in Asalouyeh already began with strike action [9]. On the weekend of Oct 8, the bazaar sector (poor merchants and shopkeepers) joined in a strike in solidarity with the protesters [10]. Other sectors, like transport workers and industrial workers, could follow too if the movement continues and the regime increases its repression.

The people want the downfall of the regime

The revolt of young women against the Raisi government is not an accident and has nothing to do with “foreign agitation,” as the government claims. It is the direct result of accumulated grievances, desperation, economic insecurity, and a recent crackdown on women’s rights, which echoes the one we are seeing in the U.S.

Since his arrival to power in 2021, Ebrahim Raisi, who is known for overseeing the torture and mass execution of approximately 5000 members of Iranian opposition groups (many of them socialists) in 1988 [11], increased the repressive character of the government and failed to secure any economic recovery. Raisi won a sham presidential election with only a 40% turnout, according to the government’s own estimates, in which 82-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei heavily vetted all candidates. His mission was to reestablish order in the country after almost three years of continuous protests and strikes, to create jobs, develop more public housing and tackle corruption. Instead, in July of this year, they allocated extra resources to enhance the security apparatus and enforce the mandatory hijab law. He promoted “chastity and hijab week” and introduced new regulations under the reinvigorated Initiative for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which was partially sidelined during the last two terms of Rouhani.

The new regulations instate “surveillance over female employees at government agencies and stipulate the dismissal of administrators whose staff don’t strictly observe the hijab codes” [12]. The Raisi administration resorted to experimental surveillance cameras in public spaces to monitor and fine unveiled women or refer them for “counseling” [13]. It has further allocated a budget of $3.8 million to the Guidance Patrols, or morality police, which has been acting more violently to police women’s dress code in the streets [14]. As Asia Times reports, since July, “scenes of violence unleashed by the morality police dragging, pushing, shoving and beating women seen to be in violation of the Islamic Republic’s strict hijab guidelines furtively recorded by citizens have been making rounds on social media in the past months, triggering public indignation and resentment” [15].

Therefore, it is not a surprise if the chants against the Raisi government and the regime are becoming increasingly popular in the streets. Protesters chant, “Death to the dictator” and “We will die, we will die, but we’ll get Iran back” [16]. Other chants directly target Khameini: “This is the year the house of Sayyid Ali (Khameini) will be overthrown,” [17] as well as “Down with the oppressor, whether the shah or the leader,” referring to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Yet it is not only the protesters who are increasingly targeting the regime; one of the ideological pillars of the Iranian bourgeois state, the ayatollahs, who serve as senior Muslim clerics, are beginning to show some cracks as their interpretation of shariah law is not homogenous. The growth of the protests on this issue can be a source of division between the ulemas (religious scholars), between the clergy who support the regime and those who are critical of it. Grand Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat-Zanjani, for example, has been the only senior cleric to vocally criticize the “morality police,” which he considers illegal and contrary to Islam.

Even if most of the Qoms clergy has remained silent on the protest, an anonymous cleric from the holy city told the Middle East Eye in early October that “the majority in the Qom seminary, or at least a large percentage of clerics, are increasingly against the Islamic Republic, because it has both weakened Islam and clerics in the eyes of people … This is while many clerics have no relations with the establishment and have been distancing themselves from its politics, as they don’t want to be seen as part of the Islamic Republic. However, people don’t know this, and I think clerics must be vocal” [18].

Another source for the instability of the regime is, of course, the Kurdish national question (among other national minorities). Mahsa was an Iranian Kurd, for Iran is home to more than 10 million Kurds (out of a population of 83 million). The mobilizations in the Kurdish areas of Iran have been very strong, and the Iranian government has blamed Kurdish opposition groups (alongside the U.S. and Israel, of course) for orchestrating the protests, in addition to firing missiles at the Kurdish region of neighboring northern Iraq [19]. The dynamics of the national liberation struggle of the Kurdish people, which destabilizes the borders of Iran (and many other countries in the region), can also further weaken the regime.

Years of growing protests against the regime

This recent wave of mobilization has singular features and is sparked and fueled by the determination of women to uphold their rights. It is also happening in the context of almost seven years of on-and-off mobilizations in Iran. As Alborz Ghandehari pointed out in In These Times, “The slogan of ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ that has swept the country’s streets in recent days goes hand in hand with the slogan of ‘Bread, Work, Freedom,’ which emerged during previous nationwide uprisings in Iran against austerity and the high cost of living, both in late 2017 as well as in November 2019, when a gas price increase quickly led to anti-government protests” [20].

This last period of protests around economic demands started in Mashad, spreading from December 2017 to early 2018, and leaving around 30 people dead and close to 5000 political prisoners. It was organized in response to Rouhani’s austerity budget, “which cut cash transfers to the poor and raised fuel prices by 50%, among other measures” [21]. This first wave of spontaneous protests was followed by a strike wave from mid-2018 to 2019 again against a new hike in fuel prices, which put more than 200,000 people in the streets, and had insurrectional aspects, where “demonstrators damaged more than 50 police stations, as well as 34 ambulances, 731 banks and 70 gas stations in the country” [22]. In January 2020, again, a new wave of struggles erupted, led by bus and taxi drivers in Tehran, where anti-regime chants such as “death to corrupt officials” resonated in the street. This strike was later joined by sectors of seasonal, industrial, and service workers.

Far from being the product of foreign instigators, the current uprising of the Iranian people is homegrown, builds upon a series of mounting struggles, and addresses real grievances against the Islamic Republic. Iranians’ fight for women’s liberation, democracy, and economic equity is a struggle that should be supported by socialists internationally.

Iran’s economic crisis and U.S. sanctions

Today, Iran’s domestic economic elite includes sectors of the military and intelligence apparatuses, which have bought up large sectors of various industries that were sold off as part of the state’s privatization drives in recent decades. This elite has plundered the wealth of the Iranian people and has rightly ignited the resentment of the populace. It is only concerned with its own wealth and interests, and the state has refused to tax this sector to mitigate the economic hardships of everyday Iranians. At the same time, the United States has imposed sanctions on Iran to pursue the economic and political interests of the U.S. ruling and business classes. These sanctions must be condemned; they have not hurt Iran’s regime and economic elite, which has only grown richer, but rather they have only harmed ordinary Iranians. Still, the oppressive Iranian regime uses sanctions as an excuse to deflect from its own responsibility in the economic crisis, and it has refused to pass redistribution policies that would transfer wealth from the top to support struggling Iranians.

Today’s ongoing mass mobilizations are happening against the backdrop of a growing economic crisis in Iran. According to The Wall Street Journal, there is today a 50% annual rate of inflation in Iran, the currency (the rial) is at its lowest levels, and “more than a third of Iran lives in poverty, compared with 20% in 2015, and the middle class has shrunk to comprise less than half the country” [23]. Although income per capita has stagnated since 2012, the present economic crisis was ultimately triggered by Trump’s imposition of sanctions in 2018 after the U.S. government pulled out from the 2015 nuclear deal reached by Obama [24].

Economic sanctions are a form of economic warfare, and a tool used by imperialist countries to impose their will by nonmilitary means [25]. They have had drastic impacts on the living standards of the working class of the countries targeted. In the case of Iran, it has been very clear. In 2015, before Trump’s sanctions, the exchange rate between the US dollar and the Iranian rial was roughly 1 to 110,000, today it is of 1 to 320,000. Sanctions also led, among other things, to a drastic spike in inflation rates. Inflation was more or less stable (8 to 12%) between 2015 and 2017 following the Obama nuclear deal, but jumped to 30% immediately after Trump’s 2018 sanctions.

It has since then followed a steady increase, reaching 50% this year [26]. There are of course other factors that have aggravated the spike of inflation, such as the supply chain crisis following the COVID pandemic, but imperialist sanctions have rapidly eroded the purchasing power and living conditions of all Iranians, in particular working people: “Employment for college graduates dropped by 7% in the aftermath of sanctions and wages of male skilled workers by almost 20%” [27]. They have also increased public debt, which today surpasses 50% of the GDP, and which in turn leads to cutting public spending and social programs.

The protesters are absolutely right to blame first of all the Iranian regime for the mismanagement of the economy, yet working people all over the world must also demand the immediate end of all U.S. sanctions on Iran, so the Iranian people can take their own economy into their hands without being bullied or told what to do from a foreign imperialist power.

The demand to drop all sanctions on Iran is particularly important today as Biden is proposing sanctions again as a measure to “support” the movement and pressure the regime. On Monday, Oct. 3, he declared himself to be “gravely concerned about reports of the intensifying violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in Iran, including students and women, who are demanding their equal rights and basic human dignity” and announced that “the United States will be imposing further costs on perpetrators of violence against peaceful protesters. We will continue holding Iranian officials accountable and supporting the rights of Iranians to protest freely” [28].

It is not the U.S. government, an imperialist government with a horrible record of human rights violations and deals with dictators and bloody regimes, that will hold “Iranian officials accountable,” even less to continue the sanctions policies that first and foremost sacrifice the living conditions of ordinary Iranian workers. We believe this task belongs to the Iranian people who are mobilizing today in the streets; we must develop their power to effect change independently.

The key to the success of this movement lies in the formation of an independent working-class leadership that can organize this growing mass movement, propose a way forward to the struggles, unite the demands of youth, women, unions and the Kurdish people, and present an alternative to the Khamenei regime. This means developing independent forms of collective power in the mobilized towns, workplaces, and cities where the demands of the Iranian people are discussed democratically, and where new grassroots leadership can emerge from within the movement. It also means raising the need to put the control of the entire economy in the hands of working people, so that the resources of the country are developed and distributed according to their needs.

Working people around the world must stand in solidarity with the protests, by participating in the solidarity rallies that are demanding the freeing of all political prisoners, sending material support to the working-class organizations on the ground fueling the struggle, and demanding an immediate end to U.S. sanctions.

NOTES

[1] https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/09/29/iran-protest-hijab-mahsa-amini-raisi/ https://iranhr.net/en/articles/5508/

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-631704863

[3] https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/09/23/iran-hijab-protests-regime-reform-islamist-tehran-khamenei/

[4] https://litci.org/en/iran-woman-life-freedom-protests-in-iran-for-gender-equality-and-social-justice/

[5] https://www.juancole.com/2022/09/dishonoring-constitutional-revolution.html

[6] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/3/students-injured-after-security-forces-raid-iran-university

[7] https://merip.org/2021/08/labor-organizing-on-the-rise-among-iranian-oil-workers/

[8] https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-oil-workers-threaten-strike-crackdown-amini/32054705.html

[9] ––––

[10] https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-protests-are-proving-a-durable-challenge-to-the-islamic-republic-11665319812

[11] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/06/iran-president-raisi-biden/619252/

[12]  https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2022/07/iranian-women-under-pressure-raisi-stiffens-hijab-mandate

[13]  ttps://www.rferl.org/a/iran-surveillance-cameras-identify-women-hijab-rules/32010957.html

[14]  https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-surveillance-cameras-identify-women-hijab-rules/32010957.html

[15]  https://asiatimes.com/2022/09/crisis-in-iran-raisis-hijab-hype-backfiring-badly/

[16]  https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/irans-nationwide-protests-pile-pressure-state-2022-09-28/

[17] https://twitter.com/ThomasVLinge/status/1573385712040550400?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1573389516827930624%7Ctwgr%5Ebdacbc7c1e13bd4e06c03ed57c8d6fbeedbda489%7Ctwcon %5Es2_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2F http://www.middleeasteye.net%2Fnews%2Firan-mahsa-amini-protests-qom-clerics-silence-ire

[18] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iran-mahsa-amini-protests-qom-clerics-silence-ire

[19] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/irans-nationwide-protests-pile-pressure-state-2022-09-28/

[20] https://inthesetimes.com/article/iran-protest-gender-justice-mahsa-zhina-amini-union-labor

[21] https://litci.org/en/changing-the-story-of-iranian-popular-resistance/

[22] https://litci.org/en/will-the-iranian-mass-protests-stop/

[23] https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-protests-economy-sanctions-religious-police-11664891763

[24] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2022/09/29/irans-tired-regime-is-living-on-borrowed-time

[25] They have been since the 1930s a tool of imperialist domination. It has recently become the main tool of U.S. imperialism in the neoliberal period to coerce other nations into accepting its view of the world order. As historian Nicholas Mulder explains, the U.S. has been the “most avid user” of sanctions as a weapon in the past three decades: “sanctions use doubled in the 1990s and 2000s from its level in the period from 1950 to 1985; by the 2010s it had doubled again.” This has to do with the dominant role played by the dollar in the world economy since the 1970s, being “the most popular medium for global trade and debt issuance” and the domination of world finance by Wall Street. https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/01/30/us-sanctions-reliance-results/

[26] https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-protests-economy-sanctions-religious-police-11664891763

[27] https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-protests-economy-sanctions-religious-police-11664891763

[28] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/3/us-to-impose-additional-costs-on-iran-amid-protests-biden-says

Photo: Ozan Kose / AFP / Getty Images

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