40 years since the Iranian Revolution: a revolution that changed the map of the Middle East

On February 11, 1979 a great revolution that overthrew the regime of the pro-US Shah Mohammad Reza Pahleví triumphed in Iran. The leader of the movement, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, established a nationalist regime opposed to Yankee imperialism, which, after a brutal internal repression, established a hard dictatorship at the service of consolidating the interests of the local priesthood and the Bazaar bourgeoisie. Today the Iranian people, deep in poverty, need a new revolution, as is evidenced by the intense popular protests of January 2018.

In 1953 a coup d’etat overthrew the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, who had -with great popular support- nationalized oil, among other actions that affected the interests of the United States. The fall of Mosaddeq allowed the return of the multinational oil companies and the monarchy of Shah Reza Pahleví established a repressive regime, with the proscription of the Tudeh (Iranian Communist Party), the left and the opposition, hundreds of political prisoners, massacres of popular rebellions and the creation of a feared secret police, the SAVAK.

The monarchy developed the so called “white revolution” that affected the economic structure of the country, on one side because of the grade of dependence on U.S. imperialism and on the other side, because of the measures that increased the concentration of wealth in less hands, affecting the traditional agricultural production, among other social sectors. In the cultural terrain they wanted to westernize traditions, which drove them to break relations with the Ayatollahs, the clergy of the Shia branch of Islam that predominates in Iran, closely linked to the commercial bourgeoisie of the Bazaar.

The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was arrested in 1963 for having unauthorized the Shah and his pro-U.S. policies, that “destroyed Iran and Islam”, which caused three days of harshly repressed protests. After being imprisoned for several months, Khomeini was freed and in 1964 left for exile, first in Turkey and then in France.

The pro-imperialist policy of the Shah caused increasing social malaise in Iran and the emergence of an important nucleus of nationalist organizations, both religious and secular. The economic crisis of 1977/78 showed divisions in the Iranian bourgeoisie, between the sectors linked to the commercial bourgeoisie of the Bazaar and the small and medium capitalists of traditional industry, affected by the greater aperture to multinational companies, who promoted democratic reforms to change the absolute power of the monarchy of the Shah.

The Islamic revolution

1978 saw the Persian country crossed by great protests. On September 8, 1979, a massive and peaceful concentration in Jaleh Square was repressed by the army, even using tanks and armored helicopters to dissolve it, killing thousands. This massacre was known as “Black Friday”

The protests became massive, shutting down almost every market, university, school, public hospital, bank, oil facility, and the main industries. The manifestations were massive, and on February 10, 1979 there were around two million people on the streets.

The army and the police joined the popular insurrection. The Shah left for exile, leaving his prime minister Shapour Baktiar -a nationalist politician- in charge of the government, in an attempt to save the monarchy. Khomeini returned from exile, and was supported by nationalist groups and left parties. During those days, there was a true dual power in the country and finally on February 11 the monarchy fell, a millenary institution of ancient Persia, and a revolutionary interim government was established.

The revolution gave birth to the shoras (councils) of workers, peasants and soldiers, neighborhoods committees and different forms of popular organization. Different movements and social sectors joined the struggle, from oppressed nationalities like the Kurdish people, to the student and women’s rights movements, etc. There were experiences of workers control and rural people occupied the lands of the great landowners. But none of these conquests survived over time.

As in every revolution, there was a great democratic climate, imposed by the control of the masses. Democratic conquests that were soon lost as Khomeini and the leadership of the Ayatollahs took control of the situation.

The triumph of the Iranian revolution changed the power relation with imperialism in the region. The United States had suffered a great military (and political) defeat with the triumph of the Vietnamese revolution in 1975, and now “the defeat of the Shah and the destruction of its powerful army by the Iranian revolution in 1979 meant the liquidation of one of the main military and political bastions of imperialism in the Middle East” together with “the crisis of Israel after the defeat of its troops in Lebanon, the masses have caused a crisis of the entire strategy of military aggression of imperialism in the Middle East” (Revolution and Counter-revolution in Iran, Correo Internacional #22)

The counter-revolution of Khomeini and the Ayatollahs

The Islamic revolution gave birth to a bourgeois nationalist government that, from its first clash with the United States, broke diplomatic relationships after the hostage crisis in the U.S. embassy in Tehran. After nationalizing 60% of the great Iranian industry, it was trying to restore the capitalist order and its insertion in the world market. Reflecting the interests of the enriched capitalists in their deals with the regime. In this sense, it took the same path that the bourgeois nationalism of the Arab bourgeoisie, which, after clashes and confrontations with imperialism in their beginnings, ended up making deals with the multinational oil companies and different imperialist governments.

At the service of the interests of this “national” bourgeoisie, the social conquests that the workers and the Iranian people had won through the revolution were slowly discarded one by one. From the control of industry or the occupation of lands during the days of the insurrection, to an important shortage of first necessities, a fatal inflation over wages and the super-exploitation of workers and rural people. The right to collective bargaining was canceled, as well as the agrarian reform, while the peasants were expelled from occupied lands. Measures like the nationalization of foreign trade were demagogic maneuvers destined to favor a group of capitalists that sympathized with the regime. (data from the Iranian SWP, August 1986)

In the political terrain, they first eliminated the organizations that the workers and the people founded during the revolution, then the republican forms of the “Islamic republic” that covered up a dictatorship, in which the Council of the Guardians approve which candidates can take part in elections, in which the opposition and the left are proscribed, the jails filled with political prisoners, and a religious police controls the life of the people, forcing women to wear the hijab and turning them into completely subdued second-class citizens. Strikes are forbidden and those who defy this prohibition can be imprisoned for many years. National minorities, like the Kurdish people, who initially supported the insurrection, were violently repressed and their rights were taken away from them.

Because of all this, the recent popular mobilizations of January 2018, in which thousands of Iranian people of the interior regions protested, encouraged by the conservative sector of the Ayatollah Ebrahim Raissi, reflect a growing social inequality and poverty, which, when it explodes, raises democratic demands to the regime and reminds us of what happened during the Arab Spring, in a big country of 80 million people, in a convulsed region, beyond the rhythm of the process, still maintains, when compared to other countries of the area, a relative stability.

For a new revolution.

Campist organizations usually defend the Iranian regime as progressive, opposed to imperialism. Because of this, they are silent about the oppression of the people, workers and women, the complete lack of democracy, the illicit enrichment of a capitalist caste that controls the state and the impoverishment of the people.

The defense of the Iranian nation against imperialist attacks like the blockade and the current sanctions, which Anticapitalist Network rejects, cannot lead to endorsing the nefarious policies of the Iranian government and clergy.

Tump´s unilateral break from the nuclear agreement with Iran, in which other powers of the European Union and Putin also take part, isn’t because Iran represents a danger for the capitalist system -just as the Chinese bureaucracy is not- but because the desires of the United States to advance in earning more profit in the world and decreasing the Iranian influence in the Middle East, a region disputed between the world powers.

In this sense, the Iranian government disputes influence in the region with Saudi Arabia, confronting Israel, the aircraft carrier of imperialism. This dispute isn’t for the interests of the workers and the people, but for capitalist profits, often with China and Russia. It is nefarious support to the government of Syria´s genocidal Al Assad, which, saved by its military support from the democratic revolution of the people, turned into one of the pillars of the counter-revolution in the region.

The Iranian people and the revolts in the Middle East, need a new revolution. This time against the regime of the Islamic republic. A revolution that will reconquer the democratic rights of the people and will finish the tasks of the 1979 revolution, expropriating the great national and foreign capitalists and supporting the struggles of the people of the Middle East.

Gustavo Giménez