“We are calling for a revolution. Now that you’re all listening to our voices, we will not stop.” The words of 19-year-old Nargis, who was hit by rubber bullets to her back and her legs, expresses the feeling of a whole generation of young Iranians.
A revolutionary movement has begun. Although there may be periods of lull, even of retreat, there has been a profound shift in consciousness in Iranian society. The regime will not be able to return to the situation before 16 September and the murder of Zhina (Mahsa) Amini at the hands of the so-called morality police for simply not wearing her hijab “properly”.
Zhina’s murder provoked a tidal wave of protest against the mandatory wearing of the hijab, but, under the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom”, began challenging the foundations of the theocratic capitalist Islamic state, its misogyny, national oppression and exploitation of the working class and rural poor.
Already the movement has overtaken the Green Movement of 2009 and the revolt of 2019, both in depth and duration. Nominally “conservative” cities such as Mashhad and Qom have been rocked by massive demonstrations. The revolt, and the repression, is particularly intense in the Kurdish (Zhina was of Kurdish origin) and Baluchi areas, where the issue of national oppression is sharply posed.
Crucially, the discontent has spread to workplaces, as shown by the strikes in the oil fields of Abadan, where economic and political and social grievances combine. Almost half the population struggle beneath the official poverty line, and face skyrocketing inflation, unemployment as well as endemic corruption. For the movement to succeed in replacing the regime, we need a generalised mobilisation of the working class, the type that was decisive in the (stolen) revolution of 1979.
The key role of women
A key feature of the movement has been the central role of women. It is a struggle against gender oppression and for bodily autonomy, which is also a fight against the patriarchal, theocratic capitalist system. The movement strikingly confirms one of the founding tenets of the International Socialist Alternative, on the role and revolutionary significance of the battle against gender oppression in the modern era.
In Iran, there has been a hundred-year struggle against gender oppression, preceding the creation of the Islamic regime in 1979. Neither educational rights nor equal legal status were guaranteed in the pre-Khomeini Pahlavi regime, despite the royalists’ claims.
However, the introduction and implementation of Sharia Law by the Islamic regime imposed different levels of oppressive laws, including on dress, as well as on women’s access to divorce and equal legal status. Following years of discontent, a generalised questioning and hostility to the idea of Sharia Law is now widely discussed.
The way ahead
The regime is completely discredited. President Raisi, one of the butchers of the 1988 prison massacres directed against leftists, commands no authority. “Supreme Leader” Khamenei is hated. But, unlike with previous movements, there is no confidence in the so-called ‘reforming’ wing of the regime. It is widely understood that the entire regime should go. But the question is how can this happen, and what should replace it?
On the one hand, no confidence can be placed on imperialism or their stooges – such as Mujahideen, a sectarian organisation that tried to fuse Islamicist and leftist ideas and went on to be supported and funded by American imperialism.
Imperialism has never been concerned in anything other than its own material interests, and that is glaringly the case in the history of Iran. In the early 1980s, British secret services handed over the names and details of thousands of Iranian leftists to the Islamic regime leading to their arrest, imprisonment, torture and execution.
Western imperialism and royalists present pre-Khomeini Iran as some sort of model of democratic rights. It was a viciously unequal, brutal and chauvinist society held together through a vast repressive apparatus. Whilst it is true that reactionary forces have been active in western capitals and media outlets, there is no evidence of any pro-monarchy or pro-Mujahideen sentiment on the demonstrations in Iran itself.
The movement in Iran has had no leadership, and that is sometimes cited as a strength. Given the failures of political parties historically — even those on the left — to provide a positive lead, such a sentiment is very understandable. However, for the movement to develop and to challenge the rule of Islamic theocracy and its specific form of capitalism, the creation of a mass, democratic, revolutionary workers’ political party will be a necessity.
Key to the building of such a party will be a programme that is in tune with the mood of the movement, one that seeks to overthrow not just the current regime but capitalism itself, replacing it with a system that works for the majority of people — socialism — as a step towards a socialist Middle East and a socialist world.
International Socialist Alternative stands for:
- Independent working-class political organisation – no alliance with the ‘reformers’ wing of the regime or reliance on imperialism.
- Armed self-defence to defend communities and neighbourhoods
- Full gender equality women and girls including bodily autonomy
- Full equality for all LGBTQIA+ people
- The right of self-determination for all the peoples of Iran; this to include the right to independence of nations where desired
- An end to the rule of mullahs
- Free all protestors and political prisoners
- To develop the strike action in the workplaces; to build for a revolutionary general strike
- A socialist planned economy, with the key sectors of the economy democratically owned and managed by the working class
- Full international solidarity with the movement! Build mass protests against gender-based violence