Iran 1988: A bloody chapter in the workers’ movement remembered

Iran 1988: A bloody chapter in the workers’ movement remembered

THE HISTORICAL development of capitalism – a system of exploitation for profit – has been accompanied with blood and slaughter. But sometimes the scale of an atrocity is so appalling that it shocks people. The holocaust committed by the Nazis is one example. Another more recent one occurred in Iran in the summer of 1988.

By Eleanor, an Iranian exile

It was one month after the regime of the Islamic Republic under the pressure of imperialism was forced to conclude a ceasefire with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, putting an end to a devastating eight-year long war.

It was a time of “reconstruction”, when the regime sought foreign investment. However, there was a ‘small’ problem. Namely, the country was politically unstable which was deterring investors. And so the regime took measures to reassure foreign capitalists.

At the time ordinary Iranians hated the regime. This mood was expressed loudly and throughout the country. Everybody was anticipating a revolution.

Despite ruling in the name of the “people’s revolution”, following the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, the regime had not fulfilled a single revolutionary demand of the people but had served the interests of capitalism, both domestic and foreign.

Many revolutionaries and political activists who opposed the regime had been jailed in 1981 following a clampdown by the authorities – many were also killed in prison.

During late 1988, in just one month, many communists and other freedom fighters were massacred in the jails.

Some estimate the death toll as 18,000. The Mojahedin say 30,000 were killed. In some instances prisons were torched and the prisoners burned to death. The brutality was on a par with the Nazis.

The prisoners had been interrogated by the “committees of death”. Without an explanation of what consequences would follow their questioning, anyone admitting to being a Marxist or an atheist, or a supporter of the Mojahedin, was put on a list of those to be executed.

Even a reply such as : “I believe in God but I don’t pray” was also punished by death. Those that concealed their beliefs could still be murdered if they refused to accept the orders of the committee such as the demand to execute their fellow prisoners.

Once the opposition was wiped out President Rafsanjani became “a great constructor”. Abroad, governments and the media portrayed him as a ‘democrat’ opposed to the ‘hardliners’.

In 1988 neither Amnesty International nor other human rights groups commented on the massacre. Only 15 years later have the families of these victims dared to ask the government to freely place flowers on the graves of their loved ones.