Behind the turmoil in Iran
June 24, 2009
The confrontation among Iran’s ruling politicians that has brought
large crowds into the streets of Tehran is not taking place in isolation. It is
happening in a country still facing U.S. sanctions and warships, hostility from
every imperialist capital and venom from the West’s corporate media.
This confrontation follows 30 years of a concerted effort by the U.S. and
other imperialists to turn back the enormously popular revolution that took
place in 1979. That revolution stopped short of moving Iran toward socialism.
But it broke the grip of the imperialist overseers and their puppet shah over a
country that now has 71 million people in an area three times the size of
The imperialists have nothing good to say about this revolution’s
advances in education, health care and science. They abhor its support for
revolutionary movements in Palestine and Lebanon. Washington has sought out
every weakness or internal conflict in Iran in an attempt to split the
leadership and reverse the revolution.
Even President Barack Obama’s apparently conciliatory speech in Cairo,
where he admitted the U.S. intervention in 1953 that overthrew Iran’s
democratic government and replaced it with the shah, was aimed at strengthening
those in Iran’s leadership who want to accommodate to the U.S. rather
than confront it.
Playing “bad cop” to Obama’s softer speech are U.S.
warships armed with jet bombers and missiles that regularly cruise the Gulf
around Iran, threatening to annihilate Iran’s nuclear power program.
Israel adds to the threats, which are seen by the many Iranians with satellite
dishes who watch CNN or get news coverage from California-based Farsi-language
Presidential election: what forces?
By Iran’s law, all four presidential candidates had to be religious
men nominated by the judiciary and approved by Parliament. Thus they were all
acceptable to the Islamic Republic’s power structure and capitalist
Imperialist politicians and the corporate media have demonized incumbent
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is known for supporting Palestine, for his
outspoken defense of Iran’s nuclear power program, and for giving
subsidies to the poorest sectors of Iranian society.
Regarding ideology and the class struggle, revolutionary socialists or
communists sharply differentiate themselves from Ahmadinejad on many points. In
the current conflict, however, his side is more anti-imperialist.
The major opposition candidate is Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was prime
minister from 1981 to 1989. Mousavi presided over the Iran-Iraq War and the
execution of thousands of political dissidents, many of them leftist
revolutionaries. Despite this history, Mousavi presents himself as a reformer,
especially on social questions.
Midway through the campaign, however, Mousavi aligned himself with former
President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, named one of Iran’s richest
people by Forbes magazine in 2003. Rafsanjani still holds the position of
chairperson of the Assembly of Experts, which chooses the supreme leader of
Rafsanjani’s name is associated with wealth, corruption and
worse—economic privatization. He promotes accommodation between Iran and
the U.S. For such accommodation, Washington would certainly demand Iran stop
its support for liberation movements, as in Palestine and Lebanon.
Under other circumstances, the West has and might again vilify both these
politicians; now it praises them.
The Mousavi-Rafsanjani group first raised the question of alleged fraud even
before the voting was over. According to the first official announcement,
Ahmadinejad won the election with 63 percent while Mousavi got 34 percent of
the 40-million-plus votes.
The landslide victory, though the opposition treats it as too large to be
credible, is consistent with earlier polls and with the 2005 election. U.S.
pollsters Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty write that their sample of a thousand
Iranians across all 30 provinces indicated a two-to-one win for Ahmadinejad.
(Washington Post, June 15) This gap was also true among Azeris, Iran’s
second-largest ethnic group, even though Mousavi is Azeri. The two
pollsters’ conclusion was that Ahmadinejad probably won.
As of June 23, Iran’s Guardian Council has approved the election. The
council had reported “irregularities” in 50 cities that might
involve as many as 3 million votes. These discrepancies could simply involve
people who voted outside their home district, which is allowed in Iranian
elections. In any case, they would not change the outcome.
Demonstrations in Tehran
By the weekend of June 20-21, the Western media’s massive coverage
began to emphasize alleged state repression of the demonstrations in Tehran.
These protests had reached mass proportions in the week of June 15-20 and
spread outside the elite neighborhoods that are the stronghold of the
anti-Ahmadinejad forces. The size of the protests has since diminished.
What about the demonstrations in Western cities—most recently in
London against a G20 summit—where police tactics were brutal and led to
fatalities? Peru’s government recently carried out a massive slaughter of
Indigenous demonstrators. U.S. police routinely kill African-American and
Latina/o youth. Haitians continue to be shot down in Port-au-Prince for
demanding the return of their democratically elected president, who was
forcibly flown into exile by U.S. agents.
Yet the corporate media never turn their hostile spotlight on these
countries the way they are doing against the Iran regime.
The demonstrations indicate anger that goes beyond the election results.
Mousavi clearly is more popular with better-off Iranians. However, some of the
anger in the streets may reflect legitimate demands to improve workers’
and women’s rights. Of Iran’s 3.5 million university
students—a six-fold growth since the pro-Western shah’s
rule—more than 60 percent are now women. (Spiegel Online, June 10) This
is a huge gain for women, yet at the same time they are far less likely than
men to find jobs.
Even the presence of some legitimate grievances doesn’t mean a
struggle is leading in a progressive direction. Capitalist politicians know how
to appeal to mass dissatisfaction in order to pursue their own agenda. The
danger here is that U.S. imperialism, a hugely powerful enemy of the Iranian
revolution, which can harm Iran both economically and militarily, is doing all
it can to foment and capitalize on this struggle—in the name of
democracy, of course.