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Principled approach to anti-war work Hopi’s two day school reflects its resonance in the working class. Chris Strafford reports
Over the weekend of June 14-15 Hands Off the People of Iran held a successful school, with around 70 people attending some or all of the sessions. All the openings were recorded and will soon be available on the Hopi website.
Hopi chair Mark Fischer (CPGB) opened the event by explaining that Hopi’s message has found a “resonance” in the workers’ movement. Two important unions, PCS and Aslef, have recently affiliated, proving the majority of the Stop the War Coalition leadership wrong. At both conferences the delegates found Hopi’s principled stand – against imperialist war, against the theocratic regime – was not too complex, but blindingly obvious. Comrade Fischer reminded comrades of the growing threat of imperialist attacks on Iran, either directly from the USA or from its regional watchdog, Israel.
Torab Saleth (Workers Left Unity Iran) spoke in the first session, titled ‘The 1979 revolution and its aftermath’. Comrade Saleth gave a detailed account of Iran’s revolutionary history, showing the influence of the 1905 revolution in Russia on Iran’s 1906 ‘constitutional revolution’.
Comrade Saleth recounted how Iran’s history has been one of constant intervention by imperialist powers – first Russia and Britain, and more recently the USA. In 1953 the CIA organised a coup to overturn the nationalisation of the oil industry. This was followed by the ‘white revolution’ in 1960, which was a “turning point in the transition to capitalism”. Land reforms under the shah brought about a massive growth of the industrial working class.
From 1976 the growing revolt of the urban proletariat crystallised in the ‘out of bounds’ revolt which spread into a strike wave and general strike which was “at its core an anti-capitalist revolution”. The religious opposition only came to the fore in 1978, with ayatollah Khomeini presented as the leader of the opposition, particularly by France. Comrade Saleth argued that the crisis brought on by the revolution gave the bourgeoisie and the imperialists only one option – the reluctant acceptance of a transfer of power to the shia hierarchy.
When in power Khomeini’s gang set about dismantling the democratic gains of the revolution and liquidating the revolutionary vanguard of the working class. By 1981 the revolution was defeated. Comrade Saleth finished his address by urging the left not to “fall into the trap” of supporting the ‘anti-imperialist’ islamists a second time, as it had during the 1979 revolution.
Several important questions were raised in the subsequent discussion – could Iran be called state capitalist, what was the role of US imperialism in the ascendancy of Khomeini, what were the errors of the majority of the left in the islamist counterrevolution? David Mather called the Iranian revolution a “historical tragedy” and explained that it produced a massive polarisation of the Iranian left between those that gave some kind of support to the theocratic regime (the ‘official’ communists, the Tudeh party, and the Fedayeen majority) and those that fought for working class independence.
Comrade Saleth ended the discussion by explaining that he did not believe in a US conspiracy to put Khomeini in power, as had been claimed from the floor. He stated that the “vast majority of the radical left only appreciated that it was facing a counterrevolution when it started killing them” – a devastating indictment of the left’s failure.
Afterwards a recorded message from Tehran students was played. They thanked Hopi for its valuable solidarity work, especially in raising the case of all those leaders who had been arrested. The students were adamant in opposing every imperialist threat, which had given the regime a pretext to suppress democratic opposition.
Christine Cooper explained that sanctions against Iran had first been adopted after the 1979 hostage crisis. She pointed out the selective nature of UN sanctions when it comes to nuclear development, as Pakistan and Israel have been allowed, even helped, in their acquisition of weapons of mass slaughter. And, of course, the imperialists themselves have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over.
Recent sanctions began with the voluntary restriction of arms sales and reconstituted uranium. Comrade Cooper explained that the effect of sanctions hit the poor the hardest, while the rich and the elite were easily able to escape their effects. Iranian capitalists have used sanctions as a reason not to pay workers and to sell up factories, etc. Inside Iran domestic investment is being discouraged by the falling rate of accumulation. Comrade Cooper said that it was only the oil profits that are keeping things from getting worst.
During the discussion John Bridge (CPGB) said that sanctions are a way to “ratchet up tension”, while other comrades raised the economic links between Iran, the EU and China, the effect of sanctions on the working class and whether US culture is still appealing to the Iranian youth.
The debate was taken in another direction, pre-empting a session the following day, when a member of the International Bolshevik Tendency argued that we should defend the right of Iran to have nuclear weapons. Unlike Iraq, North Korea’s nuclear weapons ensure that it will not be attacked by the US (although, of course, Iraq is strategically and economically much more important than North Korea). Comrades responded that, while we are for the defeat of imperialism, we should on no account give support to a reactionary regime just because it happens to be an enemy of the US imperialists.
Working class in Iran
The next session was ‘The working class movements and their responses to the economic crisis’ with David Mather and Amir Javaheri Langaroudi (Workers Left Unity Iran). Comrade Langaroudi had produced a 600-page document recording workers’ struggles in Iran from March 2007 to March 2008.
Comrade Mather outlined Hopi’s differences with both the leadership of the STWC and SWP on the one side and the social-imperialists on the other. He said that the class conflict in Iran looks set to intensify, with a further upsurge in strikes, as the implementation of neoliberal policies, coupled with high inflation, continues to bite.
Privatisation and casualisation of labour has intensified and workers have been deserting the official islamic councils and setting up their own independent organisations. At first workers’ protests had taken the form of protests through petitions and so on, but, as the regime responded with violence, the workers resorted to their strikes and other militant actions – there has been a debate within the workers’ movement over how far such actions should be taken.
He outlined the danger of the workers’ movement being diverted either by reformism or being lured by the anti-regime promises of the imperialists. He reminded comrades that, while Hopi was first and foremost an anti-war campaign, its support for all democratic and working class struggles in Iran was vital.
Comrade Langaroudi thanked comrades for the support they had given to the workers’ movement in Iran – over the last year more than 5,000 workers’ disputes had taken place across that country. His collection of photographs were on display over the weekend, illustrating a whole range of the struggles taking place over the last period and the extensive repression they have faced.
The discussion was kicked off by Nick Rogers (CPGB) who said that the regime was openly anti-working class and that any notion of a united front with it was not on the cards. He said that a “burning question” for us concerned the need for working class independence. The application of the early Comintern thesis on the anti-imperialist united front had led to disaster after disaster – not least the 1979 Iranian revolution.
The discussion then centred around the strength of the working class movement, its national coordination, the threat of its manipulation by imperialism and the form future working class resistance will take.
The final session of the day was titled ‘War, human rights and humanitarian interventions’ with Bill Bowring and the CPGB’s Mike Macnair. Comrade Bowring argued that there had been three generations of ‘human rights’.
The first generation were the civil and political rights achieved by the French Revolution. Those of the second generation were social and economic or ‘red rights’, which were a response to the Russian Revolution. Third generation rights concerned independence and the right to self-determination, which he dated to the post-1960s struggles for decolonisation. Comrade Bowring said that outside “intervention” is always a disaster and that any democratic revolution must take into account questions of national democracy.
Comrade Macnair said that, however legal an imperialist war may be, it should always be opposed absolutely by our movement. He argued that we should challenge international law with the alternative principles of human/working class solidarity and republican equality – the latter being the equality between nations with no permanent relation of domination.
The discussion was once again lively, with contributions questioning the concept of republican equality, and the relationship between national self-determination and working class solidarity. But controversy was once more instigated by the IBT, whose comrades demanded that Hopi should “take a side” with Iran, an oppressed nation, against imperialism.
Comrade Peter Manson (CPGB) said that our desire to see the defeat of imperialism should never lead us to support a viciously anti-working class regime like the Iranian theocracy – we oppose imperialism because we seek to advance the cause of the working class, not hold it back. Comrade Bridge ridiculed the Trotskyist absurdity, to which the IBT subscribes, that regimes like that of Iran should be supported militarily but not politically. These comrades’ support takes the form of propaganda, not armed detachments.
The second day was opened with another recorded message from an Iranian comrade, who spoke about the women’s movement and its growing strength. The comrade also spoke about the contradictions within the movement that are being played out in the campaign to raise one million signatures.
Rahim Bandoui from the Baluchistan People’s Party gave an insightful talk on national minorities in Iran, home to many nationalities that have been used to further the aims of imperialist powers throughout history. It was only in 1925 that attempts were made to unify Iran into a centralised state, which saw the suppression of minority rights, languages and religions.
Comrade Bandoui argued that imperialism had used reactionary islamist forces to contain the Soviet Union. But now defeating the islamist regime demanded not imperialist intervention, but the unity of all nationalities and left and progressive forces. Comrade Bandoui was against the nationalist break-up of Iran, suggesting that a democratic solution would entail a federal arrangement. He reminded comrades that the national movements in Iran need the support of workers across the world – otherwise the danger of US manipulation will be very real.
After the break John McDonnell MP gave a positive talk on the achievements of Hopi and the immediate tasks of the campaign over the coming period (see p6). The discussion afterwards was open and self-critical. Comrades talked about strengthening our links with the trade unions and building a stronger base of support in the workers’ movement. Participants also discussed the impact Hopi has had on the anti-war movement and the left, with Ann Mc Shane of Hopi Ireland describing the hostility of the SWP-led anti-war movement, even though it had adopted some of our slogans.
Iran, Israel, and nuclear weapons
Moshé Machover recalled the creation of Israel and its role in the Suez crisis, which he described as a turning point in history. Comrade Machover explained that we should look at Suez as an example of how a war with Iran may be started – with the USA coming to the ‘defence’ of Israel after it had made the first move.
He spoke about US toleration of Israel’s development of nuclear technology in exchange for Israel’s role as a watchdog of imperialism. The USA had taken over France’s role as Israel’s biggest backer. Comrade Machover explained that until the 1979 revolution Iran and Israel had been “two pillars of US imperialism”. He argued that the nuclear issue was a pretext for US intervention and pointed out that, while there was no proof that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons, Israel’s own nuclear arsenal is a constant provocation.
Women in Iran
Azar Majedi (Organisation of Women’s Liberation Iran) began the final session by declaring that “no-one thinks an attack would save anyone”. Comrade Majedi went on to describe the brutal crackdown on women and all those opposing the theocratic regime since 1981. She explained that the women’s movement in Iran has deep historical roots going back to opposition to the shah.
She argued that Iranian women were better placed than their Saudi counterparts because of this long history and the vibrant movement which still exists. She went on to describe the March 8 movement, which organised a week of demonstrations and discussions and has received widespread support, even though leading members had been arrested.
Comrade Majedi explained that there is now a new generation of activists in the women’s movement in Iran. This movement has also converged with the students’ movement, which has drawn many men into supporting women’s demands and aspirations. They have done this in spite of massive repression. She described the revolutionary potential of the campaign for women’s rights.
Yassamine Mather closed the weekend school by thanking participants and summarising John McDonnell’s suggestions for the coming period. Afterwards Hopi supporters attended the demonstration against George Bush’s visit to London, where 25 people were arrested and two injured following a police blockade and baton-charge.