By CARLOS SAPIR
More than three months have passed since Mahsa Amini’s death in the custody of Iran’s religious Guidance Patrol, but the protests inspired by Amini’s death continue from Tabriz to Zahedan. Workers’ Voice continues to stand in solidarity with the brave protesters fighting for basic democratic rights against increasingly severe state repression.
The scarf that breaks the regime’s back
Without minimizing the significance of the protests’ immediate motivation—for women’s rights and against police brutality—it is important to remember that these protests build on prior waves of unrest that have threatened the Iranian state. Since 2017, Iranians have repeatedly taken to the streets to express their rage against economic austerity, corruption, and state repression. The most recent round of protests, however, are notable for their longevity and their widespread nature across the country, despite drastic measures by the Iranian government to attempt to stamp them out.
Several hundred protesters have been killed by state forces as of December 2022, and it is estimated that nearly 20,000 have been arrested. Individual protesters have been sentenced to execution on flimsy charges of attacking state forces, with a handful of executions having already been publicly carried out. Repression has been especially fierce against ethnic minorities within Iran, particularly Baluchis and Arab Sunnis, as well as against Kurds, the ethnic group that Mahsa Amini herself belonged to.
Beyond its violent responses to the protests, the regime’s other maneuvering suggests that it has been knocked off balance in responding to the widespread protests. Publicly, the regime has maintained an unwavering stance in defense of its misogynistic policies. It has attempted to impede protests by applying wide-ranging internet blackouts that have been estimated to cost the country $37 million a day to maintain. At significant cost to the Iranian government and general population of Iran, these blackouts have both impeded organizing within Iran, as well as international journalists’ ability to cover the protests.
This has led to an artificial perception of calm internationally, dramatically punctured when Iranians are able to circumvent the blocks, such as during the World Cup group stages, when Iranian protesters were able to use their presence in Qatar as an opportunity to raise their slogans for Woman, Life and Freedom from inside football stadiums during Iran’s matches. Even the official representatives of Iranian soccer refused to sing the Iranian national anthem in protest following their first match in the World Cup, although they would later do so after following matches (and likely direct threats from the government). In the face of this continued resistance by Iranians, the Iranian government has continued with the nonsensical claim that the protests are being incited by Saudi Arabia, and has cancelled diplomatic talks in response, a sign of the regime’s increasing isolation.
Sporadic strikes amid mass unrest
Although a centralized leadership for the protest movement has yet to emerge and trade-union coalitions have not been able to call for general strikes across the country, industrial union locals have organized periodic strikes in solidarity with the protests, and drawing the connection between the Iranian regime’s anti-worker economic policies and its repression of women. Protests have also spread through over 100 universities across the country. The ability of workers to connect their labor militancy to the broader protest movement will be decisive to the protest movements’ ability to threaten the Iranian regime. Meanwhile, there are reports of armed resistance in the regions of Iranian Kurds, with the support of Kurdish militant organizations across the border in Iraq, as the oppressed Kurdish population of northwest Iran fights once more for its national liberation.
Socialists stand for the Iranian people’s struggle
As Marxists, we are in support of the Iranian people’s struggle for an end to misogynist laws, police violence, and anti-worker economic austerity. While the Iranian regime tries to deflect responsibility and paint the protests as the machinations of its regional rivals and U.S. imperialism, these accusations are hollow in the face of the continued and widespread nature of the protests. At the same time, we oppose any military or economic intervention by the U.S. or other imperialist powers, which would serve only to derail the protest movement, undermine its legitimacy, and further prevent the Iranian working class from controlling Iran’s destiny.
The fact that some neo-Stalinist groups defend the Iranian regime is a testament to their inability to confront capitalist autocracy when it isn’t waving an American flag, as well as their own historical amnesia, given that the Islamic Republic presided over the imprisonment and execution of thousands of socialist activists, whether Stalinist, Trotskyist, or belonging to other tendencies.
Beyond the immediate struggles of the Iranian working class, Iran has become a vital supplier of munitions for Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. In this capacity, a threat to the Islamic Republic regime’s existence also threatens to cut off Russia’s ability to continue its invasion, forcing the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine.
We agree with the International Workers League’s Dec. 6 statement in support of the protests, which concluded: “We believe that the current regime in Iran should be replaced by a working-class government. Only a government made and led by workers, farmers, and the oppressed nationalities will be able to put control of the entire economy in the hands of working people to build a society free of exploitation, with free health care and education, and ensure all democratic rights, including the right to succession to oppressed minorities, and full equality for women and the LGTBQ communities” (https://workersvoiceus.org/2022/12/06/iwl-statement-in-support-of-the-protests-in-iran/).
It is the role of socialists around the world to form bonds of solidarity and support with the working people of Iran, to call for the release of the thousands of imprisoned protesters, to provide material support to the working class of Iran, to oppose harmful imperialist interventions, and to mobilize our unions, student groups, and community organizations to join us in these solidarity efforts.
Photo: Protesters in Iran display photograph of Mahsa Amini. (Osan Kose / AFP / Getty Images)