Iran: What Is Going On?

Student protest at the University of Tehran on Dec. 30, 2017

By Dominique Ferré

[Note: The following article first appeared in Issue No. 121 — Jan. 10, 2018 — of Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune), the weekly newspaper of the Independent Democratic Workers Party (POID) of France.]

Demonstrations have taken place in several cities across Iran since 28 December. It should be remembered that Iran is a heavily populated country, with a population of 82 million, where a Farsi (Persian)-speaking majority coexists with many national minorities: Kurdish, Azeri, Baluch, Arab, etc. The repression has already resulted in many victims and several hundred arrests.

Anti-Popular Measures and International Sanctions

What are the causes of these demonstrations? Some of the government measures that affect the dispossessed populations have created a climate that opened the way to this discontent. In addition to the increase in the price of basic foodstuffs, like eggs, austerity budgetary measures were enacted, such as the cuts to the pensioners’ benefits, or the announcement — which has since been abandoned — of a 50% increase in the price of fuel.

Some of these measures were justified by the Rohani government as necessary for “attracting foreign investors”. Iran has not escaped the crisis of the worldwide capitalist system. But the consequences of this crisis have been aggravated by the effects of the international sanctions imposed at the initiative of the United States. The agreement “on the Iranian nuclear programme” signed in 2015 between Obama and the Iranian regime has not put an end to the sanctions.

That is why, unlike the 2009 demonstrations [1], the slogans put forward during these recent events have expressed certain social aspirations. Workers and representatives of the impoverished masses have been present in these demonstrations (but not only).

This, moreover, is what explains the nervousness of the authorities, who alternate between repression, concessions, embarrassed declarations, and threats. But the repression that has for long beaten down the labour organisations [2] has prevented — at this stage, in any case — the expression of the specific interests of the working class.

Criticisms of Iran’s foreign policy”

But these demonstrations do not only amount to social protest by the workers. The Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour commented: “Socio-economic demands are indeed at the core of the current gatherings, but criticisms of Iran’s foreign policy are seething visibly. The influence of the Islamic Republic has been booming over the past few years, notably at the regional level” and particularly in relation to the government’s support – especially the support of its hard-liners – for groups such as Hezbollah (in Lebanon), the Houthis (in Yemen) or Hamas (in Palestine).”

The Iranian “Islamic Republic” regime has been crisscrossed for years now by multiple currents and factions representing – in the absence of genuine political parties – the different political leanings within the Iranian bourgeoisie. These currents confront each other, sometimes brutally, including in street demonstrations, as occurred in 2009. Thus, the current demonstrations have been supported and even encouraged by different factions of the regime itself, from that of former President Ahmadinejad (called “conservative” by the Western media) to other currents that are considered “reformers”, seeking agreements with the United States.

U.S. Intervention

The U.S. administration, with Trump in the lead, and its closest allies — the State of Israel, the Saudi monarchy, and the European Union — immediately intervened in the unfolding events. Trump sent numerous tweets claiming to support “the great Iranian people” who, according to him, want “regime change”. Now, the recent examples of Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and many others are there to remind us of the chaos that results from such interference in the name of “regime change” cited by the major powers, notably by the United States, all of whom decide – instead of the peoples — which regimes are acceptable and which regimes (often acceptable yesterday) must be “changed”.

U.S. intervention in Iran, of course, has a history. Forty years ago, the Iranian Revolution stood up against the bloody regime of the Shah of Iran, a puppet of the United States and of the big U.S. oil companies. It was not an “Islamic Revolution”, as both leaders of the major powers and Teheran’s Mullahs [3] today claim. It was a genuine workers’ and peasant revolution, which, starting from democratic and national aspirations, witnessed the dispossessed masses and the youth rise up by the millions, tearing down and dismantling the Shah’s dictatorship, along with his sinister secret police, the SAVAK.

But, as the revolutionary uprising lacked a genuine working class leadership [4], the forces linked to the Shiite clergy eventually managed to force the revolution to retreat — by means of a brutal repression carried out by what then-President Banisadr, ally of Ayatollah Khomeini, called “the parallel power” of the revolutionary committees. But never were the relations of U.S. imperialist domination over Iran, such as they existed at the time of the Shah, re-established. This is certainly what motivates the U.S. administration’s relentless efforts against Iran — and surely not any kind of sympathy for those who are demonstrating against unemployment and the high cost of living.


[1] In 2009, the re-election of Ahmadinejad as president was contested in the streets by the partisans of Mir-Hossein Moussavi, former prime minister of the Islamic Republic who was supported by “reformers”.

[2] We know the fate of, among others, activist Reza Shahabi, of the bus drivers’ union; he was detained and tortured in a country where political and trade union organisations are illegal.

[3] Mullah: member of the Shiite clergy.

[4] It is important to remember, for example, that the Tudeh Party (linked to the Soviet bureaucracy), after not having opposed the CIA coup d’état that put the Shah back on the throne in 1953, positioned itself as a “critical supporter” of the mullah regime.


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