• Mass opposition can end the regime
  • Build a socialist movement to end the rule of the elite, poverty and capitalism
2018 Workers Day protests in Iran, photo Armin Karami/CC, photo Armin Karami/CC

2018 Workers Day protests in Iran, photo Armin Karami/CC, photo Armin Karami/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Robert Bechert, Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI)

A wave of anger over what is seen as the regime’s lying and incompetence – after the tragic downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet – has sparked off a third round of mass protests in Iran in just over three years.

In a matter of days, the widespread ‘national unity’ produced by Trump’s assassination of general Suleimani has been trapidly undermined.

The realisation that the regime had lied to the population triggered the protests. Officials claimed that both President Rouhani and the religious leaders did not know that Iranian missiles brought down the Ukrainian airplane until the evening of 10 January.

But on 11 January, when General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force, publicly admitted its role in the “unintentional” strike, he also said that he had informed officials about it on 8 January.

The protests that immediately developed had radical, anti-regime, slogans like “death to the liars”, “down with the dictator”. “They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here”. “Guards; you are the dictator; you are our Isis” and “we don’t want the Islamic republic”.

Even though the size of these protests was small, they marked a significant political development. Last November saw the rapid growth of large nationwide protests sparked off by a rise in fuel prices.

Even the state-backed news media reported demonstrations, road blockades and attacks on buildings in 100 cities and towns. These had a wider geographical spread than the previous wave of workers’ demonstrations and strikes, often on the questions of wages, in November 2017 and continued into early 2018.

Recent years in Iran have seen clear signs of a continued development of independent workers’ organisations and student opposition, including campus socialist groupings. Significantly, this is despite continuing repression and state violence.

Last November’s protests were met with vicious repression, hundreds were killed, possibly well over a 1,000, while thousands were injured and arrested. In the last few years there have been continual arrests, trials and imprisonments of trade unionists, worker activists and student socialists.

But this has not permanently stopped new protests developing. For years now the regime has been openly divided and these divisions are deepening in the face of increasing popular opposition, economic crisis and Trump’s threats.

It is quite possible that the shooting down of this plane will heighten these divisions and be used in the ongoing factional struggle within the ruling elite. Both these tensions and the growing oppositional mood could even be reflected though the heavily controlled parliamentary elections due to be held on 21 February.

Western hypocrisy

Right now the competing imperialist powers are seeking both to limit the repercussions of Suleimani’s assassination and take advantage of the airplane’s shooting down.

But this is not being done to help the mass of the Iranian people. A recent statement issued by some students at the Amir Kabir University warned that Iranians are “surrounded by evil from every direction” and called for a “policy that will not rush into the arms of imperialism due to… fear of despotism”.

Clearly this is a call to reject the demagogy of Trump and the US administration. Despite Trump’s claims to Iranians that he has “stood with you” he, like all capitalist rulers, is no principled defender of democratic rights. Trump is quite happy dancing and trading with the autocratic Saudi rulers.

At the same time as claiming to support the protesters in Iran, Trump published a fawning tribute to the recently deceased Omani ruler Sultan Qaboos, saying he had “brought peace and prosperity to his country and was a friend to all”.

Yet Oman is a country that even the CIA officially describes as an “absolute monarchy”, like Saudi Arabia, ie with no elections and few democratic rights. Is this the model Trump wants for Iran?

Now Trump and his supporters are trying to unload onto the Iranian regime all the responsibly for this tragedy. But it is Trump’s policies – Suleimani’s assassination, the threat to destroy 52 Iranian targets against the background of his “maximum pressure” sanctions – which have heated up the situation.

Even on the question of Iran admitting responsibility for bringing down the Ukrainian plane, Tehran’s three-day delay cannot be compared with the four years that the US government took to admit that it shot down an Iranian passenger plane in 1988.

Last year saw mass movements and revolutions in Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan. These showed the potential force of the working class and poor to change society.

The challenge now is to build upon these struggles and continue the steps already being taken to build trade unions and create democratic organisations of working people, youth and the poor.


Such organisations can both give leadership to the struggle against the regime and also be the basis for a government that breaks the power of the ruling class and breaks with both imperialism and capitalism, thereby creating the basis for a genuinely socialist transformation of society.

Significantly in Iran a group of workers at the Haft Tappeh Agro-Industry Company, in oil-rich Khuzestan province, issued a statement announcing their intention to join the latest protests.

This workforce has been building a genuine trade union and played a key role in previous protests, especially in November 2018 with demands for the renationalisation of their privatised workplace and its management by a “workers’ council… based on collective decision-making”.

The Amir Kabir University students’ statement was clearly moving in this direction, denouncing the economic policies that have created “a whole host of neglected groups, alongside a group of privileged, rich and corrupt individuals”.

While not clearly calling for a socialist break with capitalism, they wrote about “the need for social and political democracy”.

Such is the situation in North Africa and the Middle East that a revolution in Iran would have a rapid international impact. A movement in Iran, based around the working class and with a socialist programme, could be a catalyst in building the forces for socialist change as the only way to break out of the cycle of wars and repression and liberate the vast majority.