Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1028/28635

From The Socialist newspaper, 6 February 2019

40 years since the Iranian revolution: Learning the lessons for today's new working-class struggles

An armed insurrection on 10-11 February 1979 created a situation of 'dual power'

An armed insurrection on 10-11 February 1979 created a situation of 'dual power'   (Click to enlarge)

P Daryaban, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)

Forty years ago a great revolution against a dictatorial monarchy was in progress in Iran. Recalling those days still inspires us: scenes of comradeship despite the shortages due to long days of nationwide strikes, initiatives by ordinary people to run their communities and workplaces, mass demonstrations, resistance to sometimes brutal repression and the pinnacle of those events - an armed insurrection that overthrew the old regime of the Shah.

However, the revolution did not end up as socialists expected. Like many other revolutions, counter-revolution rose amid blood and fire.

The subsequent seizure of power by the most reactionary section of Iranian society has provided pro-capitalist reformists, monarchists, liberals and so on, with an excuse to condemn not only Iran's 1979 revolution but also to deny the necessity of revolutionary change.

Despite this falsehood, we must mark that revolution and learn from its complicated processes and ultimate defeat.

Dynasty

Iran's modern history is characterised with two great events. First, the 1905-1911 'Constitutional Revolution' which aimed to put an end to the feudal rule of the Qajar dynasty.

After about two decades of political turmoil, the Pahlavi dynasty, which had succeeded the Qajar, destroyed the gains of the revolution and erected an imperialist-backed dictatorship.

World War Two led to the then newly allied Britain and the Soviet Union moving to remove Reza Shah Pahlavi in August 1941. This was because they saw him as trying to balance between them and Nazi Germany.

In his place his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was declared Shah (King). These events opened up a new phase in Iranian history as workers' and popular movements developed.

This new period saw a movement for the nationalisation of the oil industry, which was then controlled by British imperialism. But a US-UK backed coup in 1953 put an end to this movement and opened the way for the new Shah to impose authoritarian rule.

This defeat was mostly due to the weakness of the National Front led by capitalist-nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mosadeq and the inaction and cowardice of the Tudeh Party's leadership, formed in the 1940s as the successor to the Iranian Communist Party.

The Tudeh Party leadership's full submission to the Stalinist Soviet Union increasingly weakened its appeal.

At the same time, as a result of its programme of allying with what it saw as the 'progressive capitalists' as the next step in developing Iran, it failed to use its mass influence to independently mobilise the working class and poor around a revolutionary socialist programme, and thereby failed to take advantage of that historic chance.

In the years following the 1953 coup, along with excessive repression, the Shah's regime earned huge revenues due to a rise in oil prices. Under US auspices, the regime carried out a land reform, which accelerated an imperialist-dominated capitalist development.

The Shah, who embodied the feudal class, now represented the 'comprador bourgeoisie' (local capitalist class acting as a client of imperialism).

The emergence, from the early 1960s, of elements of a more modern bourgeois-imperialist system led to the bankruptcy of the traditional middle classes as well as organisations of the Shia Muslim clergy.

Frictions

This increased friction between the regime and sections of the clergy, like those around Khomeini - although the regime continued to be on good terms with senior clerics who always served as a barrier to the left and revolution.

Through petrodollars, Iran's GNP (total output plus overseas earnings) growth rate reached about 30% in 1973.

Despite the improvement in living standards for some people, an unprecedented class differentiation developed. A wealthy 20% consumed more than 50% of total goods and services in the mid-1970s.

However, the Shah's ambitious plan to modernise the country with the support of imperialist powers (which had assigned him the role of 'policeman' of the Middle East) ended up in a crisis.

The decay of traditional agriculture in the interests of the service sector, and industry to lesser extent, caused a huge migration of the peasantry to the cities. These members of the impoverished peasantry resided as seasonal unskilled workers in slums around large cities.

Months before the beginning of political demonstrations, these people engaged in clashes with gendarmes and municipality officers who tried to destroy their dwellings.

Anger

A large portion of the oil revenues went into services and unproductive activities rather than industries. Furthermore, capitalist development in Iran was highly oil-driven. So a shock in the oil market caused a sharp fall in economic growth.

The economic downturn and the unprecedented gap between the poor and the rich ignited the masses' wrath, but this was only a part of the story. The people viewed the Shah as a puppet of imperialism and believed that the US was plundering Iran with the aid of the regime.

Against this background the revolution started in 1977 with sporadic demonstrations. In 1978, hundreds of people were killed in clashes with the police. The declaration of martial law in large cities did not silence the masses.

General strikes paralysed the regime. More than 100,000 oil industry workers inflicted the heaviest blow on the moribund regime by a strike which cut off Iran's oil exports.

Faced with mounting, determined opposition and amid signs of fissures in the state machine, especially the conscript army, the weakening Shah fled the country in early 1979. The revolution reached its pinnacle in February with a two-day armed insurrection that put an end to the monarchy.

In the last weeks of the monarchy the militancy of the masses grew. This alarmed both imperialism and Khomeini. People demanded: 'Leaders! Arm us!' But, Khomeini's aides were in covert negotiations with US officials and the army generals. Just a few days before the armed insurrection, Khomeini said he had not ordered a jihad (holy war) and desired a peaceful transfer of power.

Western imperialist countries, which were no longer able to keep the Shah in power, preferred a compromise and the formation of a government composed of Khomeini and his followers, as well as the remnants of the monarchy, especially the army.

However, the tempo of events in a revolutionary situation was so high that nobody could either predict or prevent people's moves. On 10 and 11 February 1979, clashes between pro-revolution junior officers and monarchists in a barracks ignited the armed insurrection.

The Fadayeen left organisation held a large demonstration a day before in Tehran University that enabled it to organise its supporters rapidly to engage in the insurrection, capturing radio, TV and police stations. However, because many Iranians had illusions in Khomeini, the ultimate winner was him not the left.

The two-day armed uprising had huge impacts on the military and bureaucratic machine of the former regime and paralysed it. In the vacuum created by the insurrection, Khomeini and capitalist factions started to modify the old machine in their own interests.

Alongside the weakened state, revolutionary organs - councils and committees - mushroomed all over the country and 'dual power' emerged.

Power and purges

Khomeini and his clique initially had to move carefully to curtail and then crush the revolution. Two years after the revolution, the new regime began crushing it, using false slogans that they were 'protecting the revolution'.

A wave of executions and arrests of political activists, dissolution of people's councils and committees, and the imposition of a regime of terror, left almost nothing of the revolution's gains by the mid-1980s.

The Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) also helped Khomeini to more brutally crush opposition under the false banner of national unity and defending the revolution.

Based on the dominant 'anti-imperialist' discourse of those years, many on the left were disoriented when Khomeini's regime continued its confrontation with the Western powers, despite an expectation that it would soon turn into an ally of imperialism.

This confusion caused a major part of the revolutionary left in the Fadayeen organisation to join the Tudeh Party. The Tudeh had supported the Islamic regime from the beginning and shamelessly cheered the repression of the opposition, until it too was brutally crushed in 1982-83.

This policy led to sacrificing the immediate demands of the working class for illusory "non-capitalist development" under Khomeini's reactionary regime and, ultimately, to collaboration around 1981 with the regime's purge.

The Iranian revolution taught a historic lesson: that socialists cannot select their allies on the basis of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'. The rise of the reactionary political Islam in recent decades is a proof of this.

As the experience of the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917 showed, only a clear policy based on correct understanding of the concrete development of the revolution, explaining and winning support for a clear programme, and emphasis on the political independence of the working class from pro-capitalist forces, can guarantee the victory of the working class.

Based on its faulty understanding of the situation, the 'revolutionary' left - which expected a new revolutionary wave to rise - failed to secure an organised retreat after the Islamic regime started its huge crackdown in 1981, leaving rank-and-file members vulnerable to brutal repression.

New revolutionary wave

Forty years later, a new revolutionary tide is rising in Iran. Iranian workers have been in the lead of the protests that started in November 2017. Significantly many of the demands that have arisen are not just economic and social but

political - including the right to form independent workers' organisations, for re-nationalisation of privatised companies and for some form of workers' control.

Under the repressive theocratic regime, workers are battling to form their own organisations for economic and political activities. But as in 1979, there also exist forces with the potential to hijack this new revolutionary wave - pro-imperialist monarchists, liberals, reformists, bourgeois nationalists and so on.

Under these critical circumstances we must learn the lessons of the 1979 revolution. This means adhering to a revolutionary socialist strategy. It means moving to build independent workers' organisations, including a mass party that can clarify the steps needed to achieve the real transformation of Iran.


Forces in the 1979 revolution


Solidarity with Iranian workers today

The current Iranian regime has re-arrested Esmail Bakhshi, the representative of the Haft-Tapeh sugar cane agro-industry workers, and activist Sepideh Qolian.

The Haft-Tapeh workers have frequently suffered delays and non-payment of their wages since the privatisation of the factory and on 5 November 2018 they went on strike.

Security forces arrested Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Qolian. Under mounting public pressure, including international condemnation, and the continuation of workers' protests, the regime freed them after one month's detention.

In early January Bakhshi and Qolian spoke out on their torture in prison. On 21 January, the regime arrested Bakhshi and Qolian again. We are unaware of their situation in prison since then.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 6 February 2019:


What we think

Corbyn must prepare for a general election: Remove the pro-capitalist saboteurs - fight for the socialist alternative


Workplace news

College lecturers strike for a pay rise

University and College Union elections

PCS: Campaign for Chris Baugh for AGS

Traffic wardens' strike is just the ticket

Unison: Democracy and the right to speak out are under threat

Historic strike of nurses in Ireland

Backing for the Birmingham homecarers


News

Tory Brexit farce, Corbyn and unions: Call mass action now

Cash-starved health service ripped off by big pharma - fund our NHS now!

Struggling unis account for bulk of unconditional offers - end education marketisation!

Billionaires avoid paying and even talking about tax! Take the wealth off the 1%

Them & Us


Iranian revolution

40 years since the Iranian revolution: Learning the lessons for today's new working-class struggles


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Haringey 'Corbyn council' must fight borough regeneration

Victory! Campaign reverses Wallasey fire cuts

Sheffield tree campaigners' legal win

Southampton by-election

Worcestershire: save the libraries, reverse all the cuts

'Stansted 15' deportation protesters could face jail

North West Socialist Party conference


International socialist news and analysis

United States: LA teachers' strike defeats privatisers

France gilets jaunes' backed by mass strike action

Sweden: dock strikes test new government

United States: strike ends federal shutdown


Opinion

Film: Vice - Dick Cheney - a cold and calculating opportunist

Theatre: Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

The Socialist inbox


 

Home   |   The Socialist 6 February 2019   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Iran:

trianglePreparing the struggle for socialism in 2019

triangleWorkers defy brutal Iran regime

triangleWorkers at the forefront of the new wave of protests in Iran

triangleThe ongoing capitalist crisis and the struggle for a socialist world

triangleUnited working class movements can defeat Trump

Working-class:

triangleTheatre: Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

triangleMay facing Brexit vote catastrophe

triangleTories Out. End austerity. Mass working-class action for a general election

triangleWe need system change to halt climate change

Revolution:

triangleHackney & Islington Socialist Party: Reform or Revolution?

triangleManchester Socialist Party: The end of WWI and the German revolution

triangleLiverpool Socialist Party: The Cuban revolution

Workers:

triangleWorkplace and union news in brief

triangleNew pamphlet: 1919 - Red Flag over the Clyde

Capitalist:

triangleCorbyn must prepare for a general election

Oil:

triangleTen years since Lindsey strike: when militant action stopped the 'race to the bottom'

US:

triangleThem & Us

Imperialism:

triangleCaerphilly Socialist Party: Venezuela - for a real socialist alternative to corruption and imperialism

Soviet Union:

triangleWhat we saw

Iraq:

triangleFilm: Vice - Dick Cheney - a cold and calculating opportunist

Middle East:

triangleJoin the fight for refugee rights

CWI:

triangleFrance: striking workers confront Macron

Historic events

Historic events

6/2/19

Iran

40 years since the Iranian revolution: Learning the lessons for today's new working-class struggles

23/1/19

Cuba

Cuban revolution at 60: defend the gains and fight for workers' democracy

16/1/19

Winter of Discontent

The 1979 'Winter of Discontent'

9/1/19

Rosa Luxemburg

Heroic martyrs of German Revolution

12/12/18

Scotland

John Maclean - revolutionary fighter of the working class

14/11/18

War

1918: revolution ends World War One

7/11/18

Mexico

Mexico: The movement of 68 and the massacre of Tlatelolco

31/10/18

Peterloo

Peterloo: "If the people were to rise and smite their enemies, was not this the time?" Samuel Bamford, demonstrator

24/10/18

Shropshire

1821 Cinderloo uprising: "The crowd thought it had nothing else to lose"

10/10/18

Far-right

25 years since 50,000 marched against the far-right threat

12/9/18

Capitalism

10 years since the financial crash - the socialist answer to capitalist crisis

29/8/18

Police

100 years since police went on strike: "never nearer to Bolshevism"

6/6/18

Dagenham

'Made in Dagenham' Ford machinists pay strike 50 years on

23/5/18

Section 28

30 years on from Section 28: the legacy of fighting LGBT+ attacks must continue

23/5/18

France 1968

May 1968: 'Communist' leaders hand power back to defeated bosses

triangleMore Historic events articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


February 2019

January 2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999