Thursday, August 12, 2010

67. The Iranian Revolution, Imperialism, and Fidel Castro

By Kamran Nayeri, October 12, 2010
The Iranian revolution of 1979 was a truly popular democratic and anti-imperialist urban uprising

A friend and occasional reader of this page in Cuba has asked me for my perspective on the recent development concerning Iran.  

No doubt her interest is reinforced by Fidel Castro’s recent commentaries.  It is refreshing to see, once again, Fidel stepping up as the world leader that tells the truth about the current affairs; in this case the danger posed by the nuclear armed U.S. and Israeli warships that are poised to enforce the fourth round of UN Security Council economic sanctions against Iran.

Castro, who will turn 84 on August 13, is a highly insightful revolutionary politician.  So, his warnings should be taken seriously. In his June 24 “Reflections” column ("How I Wish I Was Wrong") in the Communist Party newspaper Granma he offered his first warning. On July 4, he followed the same theme in "Impossible Joy." He returned to this topic in the popular TV program Roundtable, the first time he appeared on TV since he fell ill four years ago.  He reiterated the same theme in a second TV appearance, this time addressing the Cuban diplomats.  And finally this past Saturday, he included the present danger to Iran in his 10 minutes address to Cuba’s national assembly of People’s Power in Havana.  Clearly, Fidel Castro feels very strongly that the United States and Israel are seriously considering imminent attack on Iran, possibly using nuclear weapons.

As an Iranian-born socialist who was part of the movement that overthrow the CIA-installed dictatorship of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and a participant in the 1979 Iranian revolution, and as a long time supporter of the Cuban revolution, I feel in agreement with Fidel’s warnings intended to mobilize support for Iranian people in the face of imperialist and Zionist war moves.  I further believe that the Iranian socialist currents, and more broadly international socialist movements, are not paying sufficient attention to this danger.

The revolutionary socialist strategy against imperialism requires a transitional program for ecosocialist revolution to advance the power of working class and its allies.[i] The logic of the proletarian anti-imperialist struggle is the establishment a government workers and their allies that will dismantle the capitalist state machinery, establishes its own institutions and extend the process of the ecsocialist revolution.  I use the verb “extend” because the ecosocialist revolution is a world process in time and in space.  This revolutionary ecosocialist strategy is based on the understanding that imperialism is the foreign policy of capitalism.  As long as capitalism exists, imperialism lives: capitalism by nature strives to exploit all corners of the world.

It follows that struggle against imperialism is not a conjectural struggle even though it will include many tactical confrontations.  Further, it is an essential part of the international process of transition from capitalism to socialism.  The Cuban revolution itself offers a great example.  To solve their historic problems, Cuban revolutionaries, led by the team organized by Fidel Castro, not only overthrow the Batista dictatorship but had to go on to establish a workers and peasants government, and a state based on the power of the working people, and a planned economy.  The internationalism of the Cuban revolution is not a choice but a necessity.  The struggle against imperialism, in particular, American imperialism, continues to be an integral part of the process of Cuban socialist development, itself being part of a world-historic process.

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In this context, I find myself also compelled to clarify some errors of historical and political nature in compañero Fidel’s statements.  If left uncorrected, they will confuse and undermine effective anti-imperialist defense of the Iranian people in Cuba and perhaps elsewhere.

1.   There are disturbing factual errors in Fidel's historical recollections.  For example, in his June 24 Reflection ("How I Wish I Was Wrong) he writes:

"The Shah of Iran had been defeated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 without using a single weapon. The United States imposed the Shah after the war on that nation with the use of chemical weapons, whose components it supplied to Iraq together with the information needed by its combat units and which were deployed by them against the Revolutionary Guards." (please see the first comment to this post regarding this paragraph.  KN)

First, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi died in exile in Egypt on July 27, 1980, before the start of the Iran-Iraq war.  The war began on September 22, 1980, when Saddam Hussein’s army invaded oil-rich Khuzestan province in southwest Iran.  So, somehow Fidel is confusing a number of things: (1) U.S. imposition of the Shah in August 19, 1953 after a successful CIA coup; (2) U.S. attempts to return the Shah to power after the 1979 revolution (that ended by July 27, 1980 when he died); (3) Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian forces that occurred a few years later (one occasion conclusively verified was in Huwaizah on March 13, 1984).  I am puzzled with this confusion of historical facts and how it is that no one (including the editors of Granma International) bothered to check the “Reflection” before it appeared in print.  But that is another matter.

Second, it is surprising from a communist leader to ascribe the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah to one man, Ayatollah Khomeini.  And it is erroneous to say that the victory was achieved "without using a single weapon."

Surely, compañero Fidel must known that the rebellion against the Shah's autocracy began by Tehran's slum dwellers (peasants who were forced off land after his “land reform”).  This and other factors (including president Carter’s “human rights” oratory) opened political space for intellectuals and others.  The clergy joined in, not as a single block and not with the intention to overthrow the regime.  Surely, Ayatollah Khomeini led the least compromising faction.  But he also worked extra hard to systematically eliminate any independent political forces from the leadership of the mass movement. Who led the February 1979 revolution? It was the working people in their millions who defied all dangers and made the streets of major Iranian cities their own.  It was the Iranian youth who appealed to the soldiers not to shot even as they opened fire, killing dozens.  It was workers strike, especially the general strike of the oil workers that defeated the state of emergency in Tehran and forced the Shah into exile. The February insurrection happened despite Ayatollah Khomeini's attempt to make a deal with the Shah's army brass. When armed conflict broke out between junior officers and ranks of the air force that were attacked by the Royal Guards forces, masses intervened, some with arms in hand, in an insurrection that lasted three days to complete nation-wide. While relatively bloodless, the victory was assured with armed insurrections in Tehran and other major cities.  Thus, the notion of a “bloodless” revolution waged by an Ayatollah is a fiction.

As Marxian theory predicated, the revolution was the emergence of grassroots movements of workers, peasants, oppressed nationalities, students, intellectuals, soldiers, and women to fight for their own demands.  Like all genuine revolutions, this historic event was a deep going democratic and free process, more free and democratic than any institutionalized process I have seen anywhere else in the world.  

An outlines of how this historic revolution unfolded and then destroyed resulting in the formation of a theocratic capitalist state can be found in The Rise and Fall of the 1979 Iran Revolution: Its Lessons for Today. I, and Alireza Nasab, another socialist participant in the revolution, presented this brief outline to the Third Marx Conference in Havana, in 2006. 

A key point is this: the joint claim of Islamic Republic and imperialism that the Iranian people rose up to bring down the monarchy and to install a theocratic capitalist regime is a lie.  It is true that only a month after the February 1979 revolution, in an undemocratic referendum that Ayatollah Khomeini put before the Iranian people a large voted “for” an “Islamic Republic.”  However, neither Ayatollah Khomeini nor no one else at that time offered even an outline of what this regime would look like.  Furthermore, a “no” vote was interpreted as opposition to the revolution that had just overthrew the monarchy!  Thus, the “yes” vote could only be interpreted as an overwhelming affirmation of the revolutionary overthrow the old regime and not as support for a theocratic capitalist regime that was gradually built through bloody repression of the masses.

Third, it is not true, as it is implied by companero Fidel’s reference to president Ahmadinejad’s role in the Iran-Iraq war, that the leaders of Islamic Republic followed a revolutionary strategy to fight Saddam Hussein’s invasion or imperialist backing of Iraq.  While Saddam Hussein’s regime bears the responsibility for starting the war by invading Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime did not try to prevent this imminent attach or to prepare the Iranian people. Moreover, despite the inaptitude of the Islamic Republic government in the face of invading Iraqi army, Iranian armed forces supported by tens of thousands of revolutionary youth that included most political currents, including socialist parties, were able to push the Iraqi army out of practically all Iranian territory within the first 18 months of the war.  With the liberation of Khoramshahr, it was possible to sue for peace from a position of strength. Instead, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the continuation of the war to “liberate Karbala” (a holly region for the shia Muslims) and to “liberate Quds” (Jerusalem).  A world-class socialist military strategist like Fidel Castro does know that such a war policy has little to do with a revolutionary socialist strategy or would have had no chance of success.  But Ayatollah Khomeini’s policy was a cold calculated move to use the war to suppress all internal political opposition to his rule, beginning with the independent movements of workers and peasants.  Yadullah Khosroshahi, a central leader of the oil workers before and during the revolution, who died last February in exile in London, explained how Saddam Hussein’s invasion aimed at the center of oil workers power in Khuzestan and how Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime completed Saddam Hussein’s work by dispersing and repressing oil workers throughout Iran.  I should add that the invading Iraqi forces executed leaders of peasant shoras (councils) in the early phase of the war.  Khosroshahi shared the same message with the Cuban workers when he told the Lenin steelworkers in Havana on April 29, 2001 that he was jailed and tortured five years in the Shah’s jails and five years in Ayatollah Khomeini’s jails for defending workers rights.[ii] Khosroshahi had a list of 500 workers who were executed by the Islamic Republic for their activities in defense of workers’ rights. So, the Iran-Iraq war continued for another 6 ½ years with at least 500,000 death and 1,000.000 wounded and hundred of billions of dollars in damages.[iii] At the time, the Cuban position correctly described the Iran-Iraq as fratricidal and called for a negotiated peace.  

Fourth, Fidel’s overtly optimistic view of the current ability of the Islamic Republic to fight off an imperialist attack is misplaced.  He writes:

“Today, in 2010, after 31 years, both the United States and Israel are underestimating the one million soldiers in the Iranian Armed Forces and their capacity for fighting on land, and the air, sea and land forces of the Revolutionary Guards.
“In addition to these, there are the 20 million men and women, aged from 12 to 60, selected and systematically trained by its diverse military institutions... (How I Wish I Was Wrong).”

However, due to the influence of warring Islamic Republic factions in the Iranian armed forces, including the Revolutionary Guards,[iv] they are far from unified.  As the events of the past 18 months and the history of Islamic Republic regime demonstrate, this is a regime in constant crisis.  It is far from clear that the armed forces will fight an imperialist attack with a singular purpose.[v] 

Further, the view that there is a volunteer armed force of “20 million men and women, aged from 12 to 60” ready to fight imperialism is even more naive. 

Ayatollah Khomeini first raised the idea of the “Army of 20 Million” during the early stages of the Iran-Iraq war.  It never went beyond the propaganda stage.  And how could it?  Just consider my own experience.  Right after the February insurrection, I and about 30 other young men in our neighborhood in Tehran formed an armed defense committee to protect against sabotage by the agents of the old regime.  Armed with 15 G3 guns expropriated from the army base nearby during the insurrection, we recruited a revolutionary member pf the armed forces to train us.  However, one of the first demands of the Ayatollah after the insurrection was to disarm the people.  A mullah from the local mosque showed up asking the youth to return the arms and continue their “revolutionary work” under his command. This intervention divided our small group.  Some who considered themselves “Muslim” and agreed to take orders from the Mullah left and took the arms with them. The untied defense committee composed of youth with different ideological views and political affiliations was dissolved forcing us to return to sectarian group politics. The same policy was carried out throughout the country.

The Mobilization of the Poor (Bassij-e Mostazafin) that was suppose to be the nucleus of the “Army of 20 Million” continually purged volunteers in factories, schools and neighborhoods who did not pass ideological test of loyalty to Ayatollah Khomeini and local clerical authorities.  The same policy was carried out in the war fronts.  Today, the core of Bassij-e Mostazafin is mostly semi-fascist motorcycle ridding, chain wielding gangs that attack students, workers and others who dare to protest repressive clerical capitalist policies of the Islamic Republic regime.

Fifth, compañero Fidel also mischaracterizes the protest mass movement in Iran. He writes:

“The government of the United States drew up a plan to instigate a political movement that, supporting itself on capitalist consumerism, would divide Iranians and defeat the regime (How I Wish I Was Wrong).”

There are several problems with this formulation. Is compañero Fidel referring to a specific U.S. plan at a specific time?  Is he alluding to a specific “political movement”?  Is he talking about the mass protest movement that erupted after the presidential election last year? 

Of course, United States has a history of instigating “political movements” that serve its policy in Iran or elsewhere.[vi]  But including a blanket statement without a specific reference to the political situation in Iran will only confuse the revolutionary strategy against imperialism.  If Fidel is referring to the recent mass protest movement, it was certainly not an imperialist plot.  Ayatollah Khamenei (the “Supreme Leader”) and president Ahmadinejad, and their allies made such a claim as part of their factional struggle.  But in reality hundreds of thousands of people from all social classes and groups protested what they believed was a sham election.  The truth is that all elections in the Islamic Republic, beginning with the referendum noted earlier, have been undemocratic.  Working people have generally never had a chance to vote for their own parties and platforms in these elections.[vii] So, in the 2009 presidential election, when factional struggle within the Islamic Republic regime heated up, ordinary Iranians saw an opportunity to express their own demands.  The two leading “opposition” candidates, Mir Hussein Mussavi and Ayatollah Karoubi, courted these angry voters.  Some of Mr. Mussavi’s election campaign positions and statements aimed to draw voters from the pro-western Iranians.[viii]  Some factions of imperialism saw an opportunity in the Islamic Republic factionalism and the entry of masses into the political arena.  So, they began to orient their positions towards the “reform” factions.  However, this is a far cry from claiming that the U.S. instigated the mass protest movement of hundreds of thousands of Iranians.  What is true, however, is that Islamic Republic used, as always, semi-fascist gangs, armed intervention, arrest, torture and executions to repress the mass movement.  This experience should reveal for all how the Islamic Republic theocratic capitalist policies divides and repress the Iranian working people in the face of determined imperialist hostility and potential military attack.

To sum up:  Compañero Fidel Castro’s has done the Iranian people and the world a favor by his timely warning about the imperialist danger.  The source of hostility of imperialism and Zionism to the Iranian people lies in the 1979 revolution.  The Iranian people, empowered by their own grassroots organizations, overthrow the U.S. installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.  The rise of grassroots organizations of the Iranian working people made it possible to advance to an anti-capitalist revolution and to a workers and peasants government.  However, the historical damaged caused by Stalinism and reformism in the Iranian working class movement precluded this option.  Instead, Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power and used his influence to consolidate the power of clergy and save capitalism in Iran.  Historically, monarchy and Shia clergy have served as the supporters of capitalists and landlords.

While revolutionary socialists unconditionally defend Iran against imperialist attacks—whether it is Security Council sanctions or threat of military attacks—they do so from the perspective of their own political program to mobilize and empower working people.  In Iran, that means defending democratic and human rights for all as well as a program to fight unemployment and inflation. It also means supporting independent organization of workers, peasants, oppressed nationalities, women, students, and others.  It calls for democratization of the armed forces, dismantling of all repressive forces of the Islamic Republic, and training and arming the people in their workplaces and neighborhoods. Further, revolutionary socialists will call for a reorientation of the development policy, from a capitalist policy based on fossil fuels and nuclear power to an ecosocialist development policy where the emphasis will be on quality of life and not on consumerism.  It is essential to stop degrading of nature and reviving it.  Iran and the world should have fewer not more people in line with sharing the planet with all other species.

Internationally, socialists will educate and mobilize to end current imperialist wars, including the U.S. led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, as well as support for Palestinian right to self-determination beginning with unconditional end to the siege of Gaza.  Socialists should demand “Hands Off Iran and North Korea!” As well as “End U.S. Blockade of Cuba!”  In the U.S., after a long decline the anti-war movement seems poised to move forwards (see this report).

The Cuban revolution has been a beacon of internationalism since the days of Ernesto Che Guevara.  Solidarity with the Iranian people will require nothing less than defending the Iranian working people to build their own power not only to resist imperialist attacks but also to replace the Islamic Republic theocratic capitalist regime with a government of workers and peasants. 

[i] In the best Marxian tradition, socialist revolution has been understood as rebuilding social relations on a non-exploitive and non-oppressive basis.  By ecosocialism revolution, I mean a radical process of de-alienation of human relations not only with themselves and others, but also with the rest of nature.
[ii] We were part of the international delegation to observe the 18th Congress of Central de Tabajadores de Cuba).
[iii] There are no accurate figures.
[iv] This is a common mistranslation; the correct translation is Guards of the Islamic Revolution.  The mistranslation imparts a “revolutionary” attitude to the “guards,” whereas the correct translation reminds one that this is a force dedicated to a regime and not to the 1979 revolution. There is nothing “revolutionary” about it. It is the armed body of a theocratic capitalist regime.
[v] Although there are limits in any analogy, one should not forget Saddam Hussein’s rhetoric and the performance of his military in the face of imperialist invasion. 
[vi] I am placing “political movement” inside quotation marks because a Marxist cannot subscribe to the notion that political movements can be created from the outside of a society.  Political movements are rooted in social classes and groups with their own interests.  It is possible that some of these movements’ come to share interests with imperialism; thus coming under its influence.  But the source of their existence is internal.
[vii]  In the first year after the February 1979 revolutions, socialist parties and others, including labor candidates, were able to wage limited election campaigns not because of the Islamic Republic regime but in spite of it.
[viii] This included a claim that granting of visas to Iranians has become difficult due to the confrontational policies of president Ahmadinejad and the position that the money used to support the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza should be spend in Iran.  Such nationalistic demagogy is a mark of rightwing pro-imperialist groups that Mr. Musssavi campaign used to get voted.  But it is important to recall that Mr. Mussavi was Khomeini’s handpicked prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war and continued to hold positions within the Islamic Republic hierarchy until last year.  Ayatollah Karoubi was the Speaker of the Islamic Republic parliament. 

1 comment:

Kamran Nayeri said...

An important correction concerning the first paragraph from "How I Wish I was Wrong" quoted from the web edition of the English edition of Granma, Granma International.

A reader of the post informed me that a mangled English translation of Fidel Castro's Spanish original is responsible for some of the historical inaccuracy I noted in the first criticism in my post. The error was discovered and reported on the website Machetera in a post dated June 25.


The Spanish original by Fidel Castro reads as follows:

"El Sha de Irán había sido derrocado por el Ayatollah Ruhollah Jomeini en 1979 sin emplear un arma. Estados Unidos le impuso después la guerra a aquella nación con el empleo de armas químicas, cuyos componentes suministró a Irak junto a la información requerida por sus unidades de combate y que fueron empleadas por estas contra los Guardianes de la Revolución."

According to Machetera, it should have been translated as follows:

"The Shah of Iran had been defeated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 without using a single weapon. The United States then imposed a war on that nation using chemical weapons, whose components it supplied to Iraq together with the information needed by its combat units and which were deployed by them against the Revolutionary Guards."

This correction shed light on some of historical errors the reader will find in the official Granma International edition. It is clear also that the responsibility for this error lies not with Fidel Castro but with the editors of Granma International. I am not aware of an errarta reported by them to their readers. The erroneous paragraph remains in the article on Granma International web site.

While this correction removes some of the historical errors I pointed to under the first criticism, other inaccuracies I point to in the same paragraph remain.

I would like to thank my informed reader (who wants to remain un-named) for reporting the correction offered by Machetera, and the publishers of Machetera for their discovery and correction of Granma International's error.