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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 France.

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 stations.

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 ruling class.

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 Iran.

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.

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UPDATED Jun 24, 2009 6:44 PM
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