Originally published by Workers Power (Britain) in 1981
Note from the Editor: Workers Power (Britain) and its international organization, the LRCI, were the predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency.
The turbulent course of the Iranian Revolution has, over the past few months, taken yet another dramatic and violent turn. Since the Shah's fall the factions of the ruling class in Iran have been unable to resolve the struggle for power. The absence of a revolutionary Communist pasty has meant that the working class has been paralysed -tied to one or other faction of the ruling class-unable to resolve the question of power in its own interests. The open clash between the clergy dominated Islamic Republican Party (IRP) and Bani Sadr, the President,' is an attempt, by the bourgeois factions that back them, to resolve the political dualism that has characterised Iranian politics for two and a half years. If this struggle results in either the undivided power of the IRP and its successful establishment of an Islamic dictatorship, or a military coup, then the triumph of counter-revolution in Iran will be complete. But this is not yet the case.
Clergy in conflict
The Iranian revolution was a national anti-imperialist revolution. It drew wide layers of the population from a variety of classes into a struggle against US imperialism's chosen puppet in the Gulf-the Shah. Despite the reactionary Islamic leadership that was carefully grafted on to this movement by the exiled followers of the Ayatollah Ruollah Khomeini, the movement itself was unmistakably anti-imperialist. The vastness of the mobilisations and the aspirations of the masses (both material and democratic-expressed in the formation of Shoras, the carrying through of land seizures etc) prevented Khomeini from immediately imposing a clerical dictatorship in Iran. Indeed Khomeini was forced to play a Bonapartist role in an attempt to reconcile the sharply counter posed class interests that the revolution had brought to the fore. The ruling class, with the Shah deposed, were spilt on how best to rule Iran in the interests of preserving capitalism and preventing the working class from filling the breach with its own class rule.
The capitalist class in Iran is largely merchant or financial. The Shah and his court were, in fact, the backbone of the imperialist dominated industrial sector of the economy within Iran. With the Shah gone there was no stable bourgeois formation capable of ruling-as the inglorious fall of Bakhtiar revealed. To prevent the prospect of a proletarian revolution the bourgeoisie ceded power to the clergy. Having led the struggle against the Shah they were also the best placed to contain it. But the Mullah caste itself is not a homogenous formation. The likes of Beheshti, with their direct links with merchant capital and imperialism, were of a different ilk to the radical wing of the clergy which rested on the anti-imperialist mass movement itself. The conflict between these wings of the clergy was subdued by the threat of a potential Bonapartism external to themselves. Bard Sadr with his plans for a hasty rapprochement with imperialists in alliance with the army and the remnants of the modern bourgeoisie, presented just such a threat. Protected by the over-riding Bonapartism of Khomeini, the IRP conspired to bring down Bard Sadr.
Shoras defend gains
These splits within the ruling class resulted in so unstable and doomed political compromise between the Islamic fundamentalists, temporarily united in the IRP, led by Beheshti (now deceased), and the non-party coalition of bourgeois nationalists standing in the tradition of Massadeq, led by Abolhassan Bani Sadr. Since his election over a year ago Bani Sadr had attempted to resolve Iran's chronic economic difficulties by carrying out a programme of industrial modernisation. Two things were necessary for the success of his programme. The Iranian masses had secured real material gains through the revolution. In nearly all of the factories they managed to raise wages (by 80% since 1979) through the imposition of a profit sharing law. The working week was reduced from 44 to 40 hours.
Bani Sadr demagogy
At the same time the Mullahs have used the reserves from the days of full oil production, to pay out a dole to Iran's huge unemployed population. The shoras (workers committees) in the factories stood as an organised expression of these gains. They were the guardians of these gains despite the heavy Islamicisation that they underwent. Bani Sadr had to smash these organisations. He desperately needed to restore capitalist discipline in the factories to tempt the Iranian and imperialist capitalists to come back and invest. Apart from the recent agreement with Talbot, however, he was not having much success. The imperialists remained wary about investing in a country in which the clergy-who for their own reasons are currently wearing anti-imperialist robes-had such a large measure of political influence. His second task was to break the power of the mullahs-crucially the power of the IRP who control the Hajlis, the Pasdaran and Hezbollahis (an irregular paramilitary formation and a network of armed lumpen street gangs) and the cabinet. Had he been successful on this score then the imperialist investments he hankered after might have been forthcoming. However, Bani Sadr, failed in both of these tasks.
As early as Spring 1980 Bani Sadr espoused and supported the attacks on the Universities which aimed at physically wiping out the Mujahidin-e-Khalq (Crusaders of the People) and the Fedayeen, two of the major armed leftist groups in Iran. As head of the armed forces he authorised the bombardment of insurgent Kurds at Sandaj. He ruthlessly suppressed even liberal opposition newspapers. Crucially he attempted to wipe out the Shoras and reintroduce unfettered managerial control in the factories. At the same time, however, he earned the suspicion of the IRP by trying to squeeze them out of the government refrains to work with Rajai, the IRP Prime Minister. It was Bani Sadr who argued for an appeasement policy towards US imperialism "the Great Satan" - during the hostage crisis. His repression did not assess that in eliminating the gains of the Iranian revolution and his anti-IRP stance made him a target for the mullahs.
Crucial in his downfall was his failure to create a significant social base, or solid core of support in the army. As commander-in-chief of the armed forces he rebuilt the Shah's army which had been heavily purged after the revolution. Since the war with Iraq started he virtually abandoned Teheran for tours of duty at the front and concentrated on the cultivation of support amongst the weakened officer caste. Here he tried to curry favour with the generals by attacking the military incompetence of the clergy.
He took the army up in strength of 300,000 (it was 400,000 under the Shah). However the generals, particularly the new Khomeini-appointed commander-in-chief Valliolah Fallahi, were not willing to risk a coup headed by someone with a track record of indecisiveness and weakness, and one which would have brought them into bloody conflict with the masses, aroused against imperialism. The officers seem prepared for the moment to bide time, waiting for further internal disintegration before making the move they are undoubtedly plotting (and being exhorted to execute by the imperialists).
When it came to the showdown, Bani Sadr, like the Emperor, had no clothes. Ayatollah Beheshti moved swiftly. A three-man commission was set up to "reconcile" Bani Sadr with the clergy. The commission blamed him and he, in turn attacked the commission. A propaganda war against him was waged and Beheshti secured Khomeini's support in removing the President's powers. When Bani Sadr invited resistance to the "coup" against him, after the closing down of his newspaper, the cries for his impeachment grew. Khomeini assented, giving Beheshti a decisive victory-one, however, that he did not live tong to enjoy.
Beheshti's long-term objectives were not dissimilar to Bani Sadr’s. The difference was that Beheshti was determined to ensure that the vast mullah caste was the agency that both carded them through and benefited from them. The IRP is in fact a severely faction-ridden organisation itself. Its leaders (Beheshti, Rafsanjani, Khameini and Rajai) are based on the merchant bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie of the bazaari. But for the exercise of its control the IRP rests on the vast lumpen-proletariat - bribing it with dole and dignifying it with religious praise and arms. But their interests are far from compatible. The merchant bourgeoisie needs stability and industry for its trade. In the long term an economic peace with imperialism was desirable. Beheshti knew this and was, unobtrusively, working to draw all the threads of power into his hands to ensure the repression of all opponents to the Islamic Republic, lay the basis for a dictatorship and keep open the links with imperialism that he had cultivated while in exile in Hamburg. It is no accident that the western world has greeted his death with dismay. "The Exemplary Apparatchik” as Le Monde called him, was someone who the State Department valued as a useful future friend (Le Monde 30th June 1981). This course would have provoked a new conflict within the IRP with the "radical" wing, the wing based on the Pasdaran and Hezbollahis-Khalkali and the now deceased Hojatoleslam Mohammad Montazeri. Thus, the achievement of undivided power by the IRP could only be the prelude to new conflicts. When Khomeini, the final court of appeal for these warring factions dies, these conflicts will sharpen and explode.
Executions of the left
The real victims of the present power struggle are neither Bani Sadr nor the IRP leaders killed in the blowing up of their headquarters. The whole struggle has involved from the outset the strengthening of Islamic dictatorship against the working class, the nationalities and the poor peasants. Khomeini himself set the tone when he issued a warning to Bani Sadr in early June: "Everyone should know that when I feel danger toward the Islamic Republic and Islam I will not sit back and advise, I'll cut everybody's hands off." (Newsweek June 15th).
This was a clear declaration by Khomeini that he was siding with his fellow Ayatollahs in the IRP. It was also an incitement to the Pasdaran and Hizbollahis to take matters into their own hands as far as "opponents" were concerned.
Throughout June the followers of the Imam's line acted with deadly efficiency. The left Islamic Mujahidin-e-Khalq, having thrown in its lot with Bani Sadr, became the prime target. The houses of its leaders were attacked. A doctor, his wife and their [ ] year old daughter were summarily executed because they gave medical assistance to Mojahedin militants injured in the demonstrations of June 20th. On the Monday after the demonstration, behind the grim walls of the Evin prison - a former SAVAK torture HQ-15 leftists including Saeed Sultanpour, a leader of the Fedayeen Minority (who opposed the IRP), were killed. Since the bombing of the IRP HQ the Imam has blamed the Mujahedin (claiming they were in league with the CIA) and more executions followed. On Wednesday July 1st 50 Mujahidin guerrillas were arrested. The following day 7 other leftists including 2 members of the Peykary (Communist Struggle - a Marxist group) were executed. In all some 200 leftists were shot in two weeks and as the hunt for those responsible for the bomb blast continues, more will follow. At the same time the mullahs have attempted to use the pretext of the present crisis to further crank down on the working class and the nationalities. To "normalise" the situation they are trying to pass the law of qasas (retribution) -a green light for a Pasdaran terror campaign. Opposition newspapers, including the Tudeh paper Mardom (the pro-Moscow CP paper which slavishly supports Khomeini and the IRP) have all been closed. The government has been trying to pass a law revoking the profit-sharing laws that have protected workers wages and putting the working week back up to 44 hours. There have been attempts to clamp down on the Shoras i.e. PM Rajai has declared that strikes are the work of outside agitators and should be crushed. (Middle East July 81). During the last two weeks of June attacks on the Kurds, until recently less frequent due to the Iran-Iraq war, have resumed with a vengeance. Three divisions of regular troops and thousands of Islamic guards have gone into battle against the Kurds near Mahabad. The goal of this all-out offensive against the remaining gains of the Iranian Revolution is the establishment of an Islamic dictatorship. The task of Iranian revolutionaries is to resist it with all their might, but on a basis of mobilising the working class independently of all sections of the bourgeoisie- Bani Sadr and the IRP.
Bani Sadr's appeal to democracy in his "Message of the President" is entirely a sham. It is a demagogic appeal. He is desperate for support and will use any subterfuge to get it. Only his failure to initiate his own military coup has caused him to rail against the Islamic coup. The anti-imperialism of the IRP and Khomeini plays a similar role. It unites a disparate population behind Islam, diverting their attention away from the chronic economic and social crisis in Iran. It is a means of stifling opposition, as PM Rajai made clear in a recent interview when asked why he wouldn't tolerate the anti-imperialist Fedayeen (minority): "Differences of ideology are permissible, but what is not permissible is to misguide others. We cannot permit anti-revolutionary movements and there cannot be any freedom for ideological propaganda by a minority section of the society." (Middle East July 1981).
The fact that the IRP leaders were considering legalising the Tudeh, Fedayeen Majority (pro IRP-ers) and even the "Trotskyists", and creating an anti-imperialist front, just before they were blown to bits, does not contradict Rajai at all. These parties would be tolerated only if they were muted and uncritically loyal to Khomeini and the IRP. This quite probably represented a move by the Mosstazeri faction to strengthen itself for the coming battles.
For the working class, therefore, there is no choice between the ruling class factions in the present struggle. The Islamic politics of the leftist Mujahedin blind them to this decisive truth. They have taken Bani Sadr’s pseudo-democratism as good coin. When the IRP closed down the liberal daily paper Mixan, and other papers on June 7th, and 10,000 Pasdars marched against Bani Sadr the Mojahedin immediately declared the need to "safeguard all freedoms and fundamental rights resulting from the great revolution of our people as well as of the necessity to support the president who is fared with such conspiracies" (Translated by Moslem Students Society-British Unit).
After Bani Sadr's dismissal, first from control of the armed forces and then from the presidency, it was the Mujahedin who organised the opposition. It was they who led the 20th June demonstration against the president's dismissal that resulted in 25 deaths. Their actions are heroic. Their defence of democratic rights is to be solidarised with. But their support for Bani Sadr is fatal. He is a sworn enemy of the revolution's gains. He has murdered Mujahidin fighters. He would do so again. Democracy, for Bani Sadr's followers as well, must be defended. But the only sure way to do this is by refusing to give this failed Bonaparte any political support whatsoever.
Equally dangerous for the working class is the disgraceful unity with Islamic reaction that the Tudeh, Fedayeen (majority) and the IRE, the so-called Trotskyists of the USEC, have declared, in the name of anti-imperialism.
While we recognise the need to defend Iran against imperialist aggression, an aggression still being carried out by Iraq, we do so on a basis that entails no political support whatsoever for any section of the Islamic reaction. In their April newspaper, Kargar, the HKE reported proudly the efforts of their Young Socialists at uniting with the forces of Islam:
"The YS put forward a program for building student resistance units in the high schools and for uniting these units with others, like the resistance units in the mosques, the Jihad for Reconstruction and the Pasdaran Corp" (Intercontinental Press June 29th).
The article want on to attack the Mojahedin and Fedayeen for sectarianism for refusing to unite with the Islamic Student organisations who only last year tried to butcher the Fedayeen during the closing of the universities. Such craven adaptation to the forces of reaction within Iran demonstrates the bankruptcy of the HKE and their international backers within the USEC, the SWP(US). By siding with one wing of the counter-revolution they are, in effect, paving the way for a bloody defeat for the Iranian masses.
Defend democratic gains
The Iranian Revolution is reaching a critical stage. Neither the ousting of Bani Sadr, the blowing up of Beheshti and other IRP leaders nor the executions and terror against the Mojahedin, mark the end of this revolutionary drama. But time is running out. An inflation rate of 27%, a quarter of the population unemployed, a drain on foreign currency reserves and oil revenues caused by the war, and the failure to increase industrial output (industry is working at half-capacity) are all contributing to the sharpening crisis within Iran. An independent course of action, an independent party and programme, are desperately needed by the Iranian masses. The heroism of the Mojahedin, the Fedayeen (minority), the Kurds and others, will be tragically wasted unless this is achieved. These forces must struggle to build a united front of workers and peasants organisations to defend all democratic rights, the rights of the nationalities, the right to strike and to form shoras. Workers militias must be built to defend democracy against the black hundred gangs of Hezbollahis. The Shoras established by poor peasants must be defended. The election to the presidency and 46 deputies in the Majlist should be boycotted. DOWN WITH THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC. Abolish the presidency and presidential council. FOR A SINGLE SOVEREIGN CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY- elected by universal suffrage with no religious bans or proscriptions.
The power struggle in Iran can only be resolved in the interests of the masses-the workers, poor peasants, the women and the nationalities and the unemployed-by the workers themselves exercising power. Only their own organisations with full political power can solve the political and economic crisis within Iran in the interests of the workers and peasants. The revolution can only be made permanent and imperialism defeated once and for all though the establishment of a workers state in Iran.