Iran: On the Hijab as Labour Discipline, and the Slogan of "Woman, Life, Freedom"

… How Did it Start?

On Tuesday 13 September, Mehsa Amini (Zina), a 22-year-old Iranian woman from the city of Saqez of the province of Western Kurdistan who was visiting Tehran with her brother, was arrested by the “morality police”. Shortly after her arrest, she suffered a fractured skull and brain damage as a result of being beaten by the officers of the “morality police”, and three days later, on 16 September, she died at the Kasra Hospital in Tehran.

This was followed by regime attempts to force Mahsa's family to hold the funeral ceremony away from the public eye, in private, resorting to force and bribery. However, Mehsa Amini's family did not give in to this pressure. At her ceremony in a cemetery in Saqez city, women took off their head scarves as a sign of protest, and all the participants, both men and women, expressed their anger by chanting anti-regime slogans. This event sparked such a fire that in a short time it spread to many cities in Iran, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

As usual, the regime’s response was swift and brutal, so far 185 people have been murdered, among them 14 young teenagers, hundreds have been injured and thousands arrested. In the city of Zahedan alone, in the south east province of Baluchistan, the dead number 86. At the time of writing, that is 9 October, the protests are still going on. With the call of the Coordinating Council of Trade Union Organisations of Iranian Teachers, more school students have joined the protests, and all schools and universities are the scene of confrontations between the protesters and the security and plainclothes officers.

These protests have not only attracted the attention of the people and domestic media in Iran, but have also been at the top of world news outside Iran. On 1-2 October, Iranians living abroad marched in one of the largest protests against the Islamic Republic across many cities of the world. Just in Toronto, Canada, 50,000 people participated in the march.

... And How Did the Death of a Young Woman Attract Such Attention and Why?

Just the fact of arresting someone for not observing dress code and telling her brother, who was with her at the time, that they are taking her to the “morality police” station for an hour of briefing and training and then handing over her body to her family two days later, naturally would cause anyone pain, let alone a people living in a society where for more than 40 years women have been deprived of this basic right, i.e. the freedom to choose how to dress. This must be the fundamental reason that drew most of the protesters to the streets in the first place.

Then again, the matter does not end in here, when one realises that some of the flag waving protesters both at the national and international level, are not just the awakened human consciences, but primarily institutions, organisations, celebrities and mainstream media that, as all the evidence and past experiences demonstrates, exploit the situation, in line with their personal and class interests. It is true that they may not be directly responsible; however, they indirectly contribute significantly to this process.

Tens of thousands of Iranians are protesting across different countries in solidarity with the protesters in Iran, but only those that want more sanctions against Iran stand out and receive media attention! Sanctions against the very people that are supposedly to be defended. When the wife of Reza Pahlavi, the last crown prince of Iran, holds a “Woman, Life, Freedom” placard at the Paris rally, together with other protesters chanting “Death to the Oppressor, Whether it is a King or a Leader”, then her bodyguards and supporters chant “Death to Stalin, Death to Lenin”, or when all of a sudden the Niagara Falls is illuminated with the Iranian flag for 22 minutes as a sign of 22 years of life of Mahsa, then … it becomes clear that the issue is not all about Mahsa Amini’s death, but that class interests and personal gain are at play. No, no, there is no conspiracy here, on the contrary, suppression, harassments, arrests, imprisonments, murders … these have all been taking place in Iran over the years quite ”regularly” in a very organic manner.

Behind all the humanitarian words, behind the sentimental feelings of the celebrities, behind the stripping, paintings, singing songs and hymns ... what remains hidden, that which is not being expressed or is prevented from being expressed, is the existence of class conflict. In these social relations, not only the idle wife of Reza Pahlavi, not just the celebrities of the Islamic Republic, but also of other states and institutions, have interests and gains to think about and react accordingly to. Their luxurious and lavish lifestyles are based on nothing less than the exploitation of people like Mahsa Amini. Their “good intentions” will do nothing more than the famous ones that pave the way to hell, the very hell that the working class in Iran live today.

We are constantly making the mistake in Russia of judging the slogans and tactics of a certain party or group, of judging its general trend, by the intentions or motives that the group claims for itself. Such judgement is worthless. The road to hell—as was said long ago—is paved with good intentions. It is not a matter of intentions, motives or words but of the objective situation, independent of them, that determines the fate and significance of slogans, of tactics or, in general, of the trend of a given party or group. … The proletariat cannot do its democratic duty, serve as the advanced contingent, give service to, educate and consolidate the masses of the people other than by a decisive struggle against the liquidators, who, in fact, are completely dependent on liberalism. The liberals, too, frequently play at being radicals from the Duma rostrum and do it as well as the various near-Marxist or wavering elements, but that does not prevent the liberals from fighting (with the aid of the liquidators) the democratic aspirations of the masses outside the Duma!

Lenin, Word and Deed, 1913

Yes, these are still the characteristics of our era, the era of capitalist decadence, the era of imperialism and globalisation.

Class Conflicts and Imperialist Rivalries

The image that mainstream Western media and their middle-class intellectuals try to create of this event is primarily based on hiding the fundamental reasons for its occurrence. In creating such an image, some facts are swept under the carpet in order to hide the main cause. According to them, the regressive regime of the Islamic Republic does not recognize women's rights due to its lack of commitment to "democracy"; the Islamic Republic, in a mediaeval way, deprives women of their basic rights, such as the free choice of dress. The “morality police” force them to observe the hijab.

But it never occurred to these gentlemen, or never became a question, that if Mahsa was not from a working class family and did not have to travel using the metro like millions of other workers and toilers do, that if she lived in the north of Tehran and travelled by car … would she still have been arrested? Would she be arrested if she was living in a wealthy neighbourhood? The “morality police” would not have even dared to arrest her in the first place, let alone to beat her up. It is part of common knowledge that in affluent neighbourhoods, the more prosperous the area is, the less the “morality police” patrol it. It is not a secret that at parties and celebrations that are held in these neighbourhoods there is no sign of any hijab at all, mixed-sex parties are thrown by the pool, women in bikinis enjoy alcohol freely. The “morality police” is certainly aware of them, but for the fear of ”nobles”, wouldn’t dare even to approach those areas, and in the unlikely situation that they do, what do you think would happen? Nothing. They will be sent back within a few seconds with bribes, which for these “nobles” would be absolutely meagre and inconsiderable.

Furthermore, the same media and the same intellectuals are not even consistent with the very image that they create. Whenever their interests require it, with a sudden turn of the pen under the guise of ethnic diversity and multiculturalism … and using all the politically correct nonsense, they defend the very same hijab that they are supposedly chanting against today, but this time under the pretext of “their culture”.

Regarding the hypocritical stance of the Western governments, the list is long, we only mention a few examples below:

  • Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, said: "The truth of the matter is [that] if the [Islamic] revolution collapsed and Iran changed, it will be the single most liberating thing for the [Middle East region].". Coming from someone, who had a major role in destroying Iraq and the Middle East!(1)
  • Trump: “I withdrew from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal, and right now, as we speak, the people of Iran are bravely protesting against their brutal and corrupt regime. They bravely faced violence, persecution, imprisonment, torture and even death. We are with you people of Iran and we will always be with you.” Yet not a long ago, when his maximum pressure, despite causing immense hardship for the Iranian people, failed to bring the Iranian regime to the negotiation table, he proposed to make “Iran great again” under the same leadership.(2)
  • While two representatives of the Belgian parliament cut their hair in parliament as a sign of solidarity with Iranian women, at the same time the Belgian parliament was preparing for the release of the terrorist of the Islamic Republic who was arrested while committing a crime, the court providing a legal basis for the prisoner exchange of Asadollah Assadi with Iran.(3)
  • Claudia Tenney, Republican Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, proclaimed her solidarity with the protests: “To the brave Iranian people: we hear you, we support you, and we are praying for you.”(4)
  • So did the British billionaire Richard Branson: “Inspiring to see brave women and girls protesting in the streets of Iran and standing up for their freedom. Their voices deserve to be heard, and we should all tell their stories”(5)

The hypocrisy and deception of this bourgeois perspective is completed when we add what is said in the media of the opposite camp, i.e. Iran itself, as well as China and Russia, including what the so called “Axis of Resistance” (Iran's proxy forces) are saying. Basically, they do the same by hiding the real cause of such incidents, albeit in a different, pretty crude way. In their media, Mahsa's death is considered to be a minor incident, and the protests against it are considered to be the deception of some Iranian teenagers who were provoked by foreign forces, who allegedly used the death of a girl as an excuse to undermine the Islamic Republic of Iran's "independence" and its achievements.

According to the forensic report, quoted by Iran’s official news agency IRNA on Friday, Amini’s death was “not caused by a blow to the head or vital organs of the body.” The document said Amini had underlying conditions stemming from surgery on a benign brain tumour she had undergone when she was eight.(6)

Or they turn the whole matter upside down and stupidly write Hollywood-type scenarios:

Mehsa Amini was a terrorist who cooperated with Israel. "She had gone to the police station with the intention of committing suicide to set Iran and the region on fire, and there are reports that she had taken a suicide pill.(7)

Without dealing with the peculiarities of the era in which such movements are formed, that is, the era of intense imperialist competition in the context of a deep economic crisis that has penetrated into all aspects of life, not an iota of the truth will be revealed. More importantly, this movement, despite all the hardship and sacrifices, in the “best” case scenario, will become a platform for the rise of another faction of the bourgeoisie, where all doors will continue to turn on the same hinge as before.

The "Woman, Life, Freedom" Movement and its Characteristics

It is no secret that the majority of those who are fighting with the repressive forces of the Islamic Republic in the streets of Iran today and have put their lives in danger are from the working class. And also it is obvious how big a step this movement has taken compared to the previous protests. For the first time, this movement has put aside religious slogans completely. To some degree, albeit very weakly, this movement has cut itself from the known government factions, reformists and hardliners. Because of Mehsa Amini's gender, and her Kurdish ethnicity, this movement has crossed the boundaries of gender and ethnic segregation. Due to the issue of the hijab, it has crossed national borders and provided solidarity between women of Muslim countries in the region.(8) The leaders of the Middle East, like the Iranian regime, are terrified of the global slogan "Woman, Life, Freedom".(9) In some cases, as with the slogan of “Death to the Oppressor, Whether it is a King or a Leader” the movement has managed to take a class side, again no matter how weakly that might be. It has highlighted in public awareness the oppression of women.

It is true that no movement can deprive itself from the support outsiders may offer, however, if this support harms the class demands of the protesters, creates obstacles, interruptions, or even illusions, then it should be all together rejected. Of course, if any celebrity wants to support this movement for whatever reason, it is up to them to do so; however, it is almost certain that, if the movement takes on a class character, such support will be diminished, so the movement should never be attached or fixated to this kind of support, and more importantly, should not rely on it to get organised. The admirable presence of a group of worker-activists from Haft Tappeh at Mahsa Amini's grave and her house, to show sympathy with Mehsa Amini's family and also to express solidarity with the protesters, despite the very tight security environment, showed a different kind of support. (10)

Having said all that, without linking this movement to the workers' movement and strikes, as suggested rightly by many militants who adopted the “Bread, Jobs, Freedom – Soviet Power” slogan, the next steps, even within the scope of achieving some concession from the regime, will be very difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, overcoming capitalism should be at the centre of every political discourse and stance.

Class Struggle is the Only Way out of Capitalist Hell

“If God is dead, everything is permitted”, noted Dostoevsky famously. In today's Iran, it is the opposite, according to God's words (the Ayatollah), not only everything is permitted, in fact God is alive!

On 28 June 2022 Ayatollah Khamenei, in his speech on the occasion of Judiciary Day, stated the reason for the survival of the Islamic Republic in the past forty years. He recited the "Divine Traditions" and explained:

In 1980, we were able to stand on our own feet and disappoint the enemy in the face of all these incidents and with the severity of the situation, we can still do it today; The God of the year 80 is the same God of this year; The God of difficult times and different times is the same, all divine traditions are in their place.(11)

Ayatollah Khamenei, aware of the dire situation and concerned with the unrest within the working class and the disintegration among his ranks, once again calls on almighty Allah for help. In the 1980s, the founder of the Islamic Republic, with the same call, ordered the execution of thousands who had rejected his rule. Similarly, just a few months after the 1979 uprising, by appealing to the same Allah, the Islamic hijab was declared mandatory. Most of the liberal and leftist analyses of that time, which are still used to this day, attributed this measure of compulsory hijab to the stratification of the clergy and the backwardness of the society. But time showed that the compulsory hijab, as far as capital was concerned, was adopted to discipline the workforce – the very workforce that was organising themselves in shuras (soviets) following the uprising of 1979. Workers were not ready to submit to the conditions of exploitation of the past any more, which forced capital, just as it had confiscated the revolution in the name of the revolution, to bring back discipline to the country with divine decrees. It doesn't make the slightest difference what Khomeini himself or the clerics as a whole thought when applying these rules. What was important, and is still true, is the fact that the God of capital will appear in any form and in any name necessary to protect capital. Now that the children and grandchildren of the same workers have decided to abandon the same decree, so the God of the 1980s has been called again to bring the rabble and the thugs to the streets for yet more repression.

In the coming days, we will likely see more protests, however the repression will certainly continue with more violence and more arrests. The announcement and call of the teachers' coordinating council on the eleventh day of the protests had a positive effect and brought more students to the square. The idea of a general strike among militants is floating about. As we are writing, social activists are distributing flyers to "link strikes to protests". A large number of worker-leaders and activists are in prison, a new chapter has begun, political Islam has been hit by protesters, the scope of this assault can cover not only all of Iran but the entire region. And it has the potential to fuel the class struggle, as this movement progresses and develops, or on the contrary, as it declines and recedes. We will analyse it further in the near future.

Damoon Saadati
Communist Workers’ Organisation
9 October 2022


Image: Darafsh,












Tuesday, October 11, 2022