Iran at the Crossroads

Bourgeois rivalries and the recomposition of imperialist alliances behind the Iranian crisis

As we write demonstrations are taking place in Tehran and other Iranian cities which are being brutally attacked by the police, flanked by paramilitaries (from the Basiji; A type of militia incorporated into the Pasdaran or Revolutionary Guards) so it is as yet difficult to see how events will unfold. What is certain is that beyond the slogans, and the subjective intentions of the mass of people who have taken to the streets, what is taking place is a bitter confrontation between opposing factions of the Iranian bourgeoisie, each lined up behind one of the presidential candidates, the two principal challengers for the presidency being Moussavi and Ahmedinejad, the latter already loudly proclaimed President. In fact the unusual ferment, especially amongst the young, and particularly in the capital, and with the massive turnout of voters, had given hope to the opposition, but in a vote between the “reformist” Moussavi and Ahmadinejad, the latter was officially confirmed as victor with 63% of the vote. But the unusual speed with which the results were released, and other irregularities, induced the losers to scream that the election was rigged. This was the starting point for the protests, the deaths on the streets of Tehran and Isfahan, the arrests and the restrictive measures against the ex-opposition candidates, who had apparently lost.

That rigging took place and on a huge scale is entirely probable but the victory, if we can speak of victory, of the President, cannot be attributed solely to the tricks and widespread intimidation, both during and after the election, by the Basiji. A powerful instrument of state consensus has been the use of oil revenues to provide social security; an increase in teacher numbers, as well as pensions and subsidies for the poorest socio-economic strata, in order to buy their loyalty to a regime which is both anti-worker and anti-proletarian, notwithstanding the social spending which is only intended to dampen down the misery and continuous economic decline of the proletariat. The Iranian economy is also not immune to the fallout from the structural crisis of capitalism which has, bit by bit, hit all four corners of the planet. The working class of that area are also subject to attacks on living conditions brought on by the entire world bourgeoisie. In Iran the iron fist systematically used against the demonstrations of workers’ struggles by the clerico-fascist regime has aroused the envy of other governments.


Perhaps some will remember the tram workers strike in Tehran brutally suppressed as always by the authorities? In Iran too exploitation is increasing - with unemployment rising - wages go down, even if softened by government subsidies, but the dramatic fall in oil prices, if it has not undermined this, has severely weakened it. Moreover the economy is limping along largely because the enormous oil revenues have not been invested in the production of real surplus value, instead going the way (social spending apart) of speculation, the typical feature of contemporary capitalism. The world crisis has thus aggravated the socio-economic problems of the country and the frictions between opposing interests within the different bourgeois factions. Put crudely there are those sectors which more or less look to the family of the Ayatollah Rafsanjani (one of the richest and most powerful in the country), who are tired of the limitations on economic activity imposed by international sanctions and thus desirous of a greater opening towards outsiders. On the other hand, there are those sectors of the bourgeoisie whose power has been strengthened in the last few years. They are favourable to the aggressive policy of Ahmadinejad and their bastions are in the state bureaucracy, the Army and the Pasdaran. It’s worth repeating it - this conflict is just a game played out within the Iranian bourgeoisie even if the “refomers” (in reality they have always been big players inside the clerico-fascist regime) represent the hopes of millions wanting a relaxation of the most vulgar forms of social control that have been in operation for the last thirty years. The stakes are high because, as is well-known, Iran is the fourth highest oil producer in the world, and it sits in the hottest zone for imperialist tensions on the planet. Tehran, even if only as an observer, is part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which represents the countries of Central Asia plus China and Russia (Ahmadinejad in fact participated in the group’s meeting in Russia on June 16) and it is behind organisations like Hezbollah, supports Syria, wants to reduce the weight of the dollar in international transactions, and demands the right to use nuclear power. In practice, according to the USA, it is the “rogue state” par excellence. Its obvious then that all the imperialist powers, big and small are attentively, and even apprehensively, following what is happening because any eventual split in the Iranian ruling class could involve in one way or another the strategic plans of Washington, as well as Moscow or Beijing.

Currently it appears that a partial recount of the votes is being proposed but it is difficult to see that this could overturn the election result; its even less likely that the bourgeois gang now in power will quietly retreat without striking a blow should the count be declared invalid. Sure, the events could take another course if another actor enters the field, an actor never spoken of by the mass media, that is to say the working class struggling for its own interests with its own revolutionary organisations against all the bourgeois factions. But this is an issue not just for Iran...