The 10th Iranian Presidential Elections 2009

The following text was written a few days ago by an Iranian comrade of the IBRP to explain the origins of the current crisis, A further text is planned to explain the predicament of the working class in Iran today which will also include some indications on the way forward for workers in this crisis.

Following a few heated television debates involving the 4 candidates, millions of Iranians cast their votes in an exceptionally hyped up and engineered election on 14th June 2009. This was the 10th presidential election since the Iranian 1979 revolution. From the early hours of Friday, long queues formed and people participated in an unprecedented scale. All four candidates were endorsed by the Guardian Council a watchdog which bans un-Islamic candidates. There were four candidates including Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the Iranian president, Karroubi the former speaker of the parliament, Mir Hussain Moussavi, Prime Minister from 1982 to 1989, and Mohsen Rezai, the former head of the Revolutionary Guard.

But what made this election so exceptional? How could a state such as the Islamic Republic of Iran manage to engage so many Iranians in this election? Nearly 85% of eligible voters took part in the ballot according to official statements. To see how we need to go back a few years and look and see how it came about.

The 1979 Uprising and the War

In September 1980 when the war broke out between Iran and Iraq, the late Ayatollah Khomeini made an interesting comment. He said

“War is a divine blessing, a gift bestowed upon us by God. The cannon's thunder rejuvenates the soul”

No one could see what this divine blessing would mean in the coming years. Yes it did indeed rejuvenate the soul, but not the people's soul, just the heartless soul of capitalism. On the back of eight years of war with millions of dead and injured, industrialization grew like never before in Iranian history, to support the war. Under Mir Hussain Moussavi's government, all opposition groups were severely oppressed, and all civil liberties were restricted. Thousands of militants were executed at home just because the country was at war and tens of thousands of young Iranians were massacred at the front, using the so called “human wave” military tactic. While all this was happening, a new reshaped and restructured ruling class was emerging on the scene and wasting no time on filling its pockets as they made plans for the post-war future.

Leftists, as usual, were arguing the toss, stating that the Islamic Republic was not a proper capitalist state, rather, it was reminiscent of an older mode of production and would be in power only temporarily and would soon be replaced! In opposition to their illusions, the subsequent years proved otherwise. Millions of workers and peasants were subject to a harsh exploitation for Islam and the fatherland to only give a birth to a ruthless new ruling class having a faction closely linked to the military, the Revolutionary Guards.

Commander of Development (Sardare Sazandegi)

On 20th August 1988, the Islamic Republic of Iran, accepted the United Nation's Peace Resolution and the eight years of war ended. On 3rd June 1989, the founder of Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini died. Responding quickly, involving a lot of factional manoeuvres, Khameini who was the President at the time, assumed the position of Supreme Leader, with the help of Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani, the Speaker of the Parliament became President. Later, he refused to invite Moussavi to join his new government.

These moves were followed by an amendment to the constitution, extending the power of Supreme Leader and finally abolishing the post of Prime Minister. This was no surprise as this year coincided with the beginning of demise of Russia. The free market style economy was the flavour of the time, so Mir Moussavi and his entourage who favored an economy similar to that of the Russian type were no longer attractive to the newer capitalist class that emerged after 1979. Moussavi retired to a kind of private life for the next 20 years.

The next eight years were ones of celebration for the new ruling class. The 8 years of war had provided Iranian capitalism with a divine blessing. Rebuilding of destroyed cities and villages and development of an arms industry were conducted on the back of a shattered and defeated working class. A lavish life style was promoted that put the Shah's to shame. On the other hand, the story for the working class was totally different. Most had to work two shifts to make ends meet, and were deprived of basic rights in a way never seen before. Meanwhile Rafsanjani received the title of Sardare Sazandegi, Commander of Development!

His election for a second term, however, took place with low public participation. According to official figures, only 53% took part in the election. Towards the end of his second term discontent amongst the public was clearly evident, in particular among the working class. The number of strikes started to grow, riots in poor areas erupted, sometimes with full force like the one in Islamshahr in April 2005, which was savagely put down. Along with the orgy of harsh exploitation, the ruling elite were realizing the need for the “Rule of Law” a legal basis for the regime and a better image on the international scene. So reform was necessary, and a reformist and moderate minister of culture at the time, Mohammad Khatami was the right candidate to fulfill this aim.

Khatami, the Reformist Champion

In May 1997, Iranians, with 80 percent participation, went to the polls and Khatami was elected by the 70 percent of voters. This provided him and his reform agenda with a resounding endorsement. During the next 8 years, the Islamic Republic managed to improve its relationship with the outside world. For the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, the Iranian president made a few official visits to European countries.

Reformist theoreticians and the reformist movement had based their policy on the idea that political improvement was a precondition for economic improvement. Not much improvement was made inside the country, neither in the political aspect nor on the economic front as far as the working class was concerned. The student movement was harshly suppressed by the security forces, with many student being murdered. Workers as always were told they should wait!

However the reformists see themselves and understand their roles, it does not alter the fact that ever since 1997, when they took office in a landslide victory, they were the main reason for the diversion of the class struggle from the factories to universities and parliament. The second re-election of Khatami created a split within the reformist movement, most supporters by then were demoralized. His attempts at promoting dialogue between civilizations attracted no one. How could it, while both civilizations were demonstrating nothing but barbarism? One civilization was showing its power by announcing a war against the whole world and yet not able to provide the basic means of living for its citizens, and the other by showing its power through suicide bombing and only capable of offering a better world in heaven!

Meanwhile the two main arch foes of the Islamic Republic, Israel and the USA were adopting a more aggressive policy. The war criminal, Ariel Sharon, had assumed power in Israel. Neo-conservatives in the USA had rejected Iran's offer of help in the Iraq war, and despite Iran's two years of nuclear enrichment suspension, there was no relaxation of economic sanctions. As well as all these, Iran was included as the main part of the “axis of evil”. The conservatives headed by Khameini recognized the new challenges that they were facing, as well as seeing an opportunity to outmanoeuvre the reformists in the next election. Now they needed to display a different image, they needed a face who could match Ariel Sharon and they found him in a man in security and military circles, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. With this the first signs of a split in the ruling elite was also beginning to appear in the form of two main factions, one headed by Khameini, and the other by Rafsanjani.

The Triumph of Nationalism and the Emergence of Ahmedinejad

As political Islam within the country was losing its momentum, then the next card was nationalism. The US war against terror, its invasion of Iraq, the nuclear stand off with the West gave a golden opportunity to the regime to exploit nationalism to its core. Over the next few years this policy was followed.

Absolutely delighted by the failure of Bush's new Middle East policy, and seeing that his two enemies Saddam and Taliban were out of power as well as the advances in nuclear enrichment and above all the high oil price, Ahmedinejad gained more confidence in implementing his policies especially with the cash that he had at his disposal. Furthermore the Lebanon 31 days war and the victory of Hezbollah increased his confidence. Towards the end of his first term, Kamenei /Ahmedinejad could see the possibility of getting the upper hand in negotiations with the incoming US President Barack Obama, with a view to Iran playing a dominant role in the region. Ahmedinejad sent the first signal by congratulating him, the first time ever by the Islamic Republic of Iran. One item for the negotiation bargaining table, was, however missing and it was an election with a huge participation, so it had to be engineered. The stage was set; social restrictions were relaxed, the streets of Tehran and major cities filled with thousands of supporters, and dancing in street was no longer un-Islamic! Heated debates were televised. But to Khameini's surprise, Moussavi’s supporters grew rapidly and he got the feeling that he was about to be outmanoeuvred

A few days before the election the political chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard warned reformists in the country against seeking what he called a "velvet revolution", vowing that it would be "nipped in the bud". And reformists warned the Guardian Council of the Ahmedinejad government plan to interfere with the votes. And Rafsanjani wrote an open letter to Khameini as his "old comrade" just two days before the voting in which he said:

One expects your eminence, given your position, responsibility and personality, to take effective measures as you see fit to resolve this problem and eliminate dangerous plots.

Rafsanjani then wrote:

Put out the fire whose smoke is already visible and prevent its flames from rising and spreading through the elections and beyond.

Obviously a lot was happening behind the scenes. On the election day, both factions were showing signs of nerves. Both sides were worried about being outmanoeuvred by the other, so much so, it led to a point where both Ahmedinejad and Mir Moussavi both claimed victory before the completion of the counting of votes. Later, on that day, Ahmedinejad was officially announced the winner by having 63% of the votes. All the signs indicated a big fraud. Reformists talked of a coup d’état. Khameini congratulated Ahmedinejad even before the Guardian Council endorsed the election, which was a necessary legal step for that announcement. The rest is history... angry Moussavi supporters realized that they have been used in a most unfair and crude way.

Khameini called the election an “epic”, “a feast” and a “divine blessing” .... this time just a few days needed to pass for divine blessing to manifest itself by murdering unarmed people in street of Tehran who were only asking for their votes back.

This brought the situation to a precarious state. Following Khameini's warning, the violence by the state was unleashed. Foreign journalists either have been restricted to their offices or have had to leave the country. The working class once again ended up at a crossroads with a minimum preparation, where the state has already released its thugs onto the streets to murder in broad daylight.

Comrades, workers

This vicious circle can only be broken by fighting for our class interests. It is a tragedy that, today, some of us have gathered around Khameini/Ahmadinejad and others of us around Moussavi/Khatami camp. The working class will be the main loser, whatever the outcome of this battle. We will gain nothing but more oppression, unless we start to fight back on our own terrain. Just as no army can fight and win a battle without a weapon, the working class can win no battle either without its true weapon, united class action. Our weapon lies in where we work, the whole society runs on our labour, we produce all the means of living. It is in our hands and we should use it. The oil factory strike in 1979 was a decisive blow to bring down the Shah regime. We should use it again. The irony is that those who were seeking to reform the regime have created a political condition for revolution. Workers in Irankhodro (the biggest car plant in Iran) and the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company are starting to go on strike.

The weight of an unfavorable situation on your shoulder is unbearable, the road to emancipation is a minefield. War, election, reforms, television debates ... are all part and parcel of the capitalist tools for continuing their class domination. Your mind is engaged on all the misery that the barbaric regime has imposed on you, on the one hand job insecurity, unemployment, absolute lack of basic freedoms... and on the other hand on the dire state of the occupied neighbouring countries, and the threat of invasion and war. The path towards emancipation is not easy, nor clear. There exists no short cut, as you know having tried it through elections for so many years. If the war and invasion are a real threat against the workers movement then internationalism is the only real path against world capitalism. Workers have no country and socialism cannot be built in one country. International solidarity is the only way in which the global capitalist system can be overcome. This is a task to which we in the International Bureau for Revolutionary Party are dedicated. We invite you to join us.

Long Live Revolution, Long Live Internationalism, Long Live Communism!

Damoon Saadati