The new course of the EU, the nature of the Iranian regime and the working class

Posted: October 21, 2015 in Political Views

The following article by Maziar Razi was first published in July 2002, almost 13 years ago. It analyses the beginning of the process of detente between the imperialist powers, particularly the countries of the European Union at that time, and the Iranian regime.

Earlier today this process finally yielded the framework document in Lausanne. This deal is meant to lead to a comprehensive agreement between the Iranian regime and the imperialist countries in July 2015. Normalisation of relations with imperialism, and the implementation of bourgeois norms in Iran, will have profound effects on all aspects of society, especially on the rights and struggles of workers and the lives of working class families in Iran.

We believe the latest events have shown the validity of the position of the Iranian Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency, a position that has nearly always been an isolated view upholding the importance of workers’ class independence from the regime and all bourgeois forces in the face of huge propaganda by the Iranian regime. We have also had to endure criticism from ‘leftists’ who, because of their mistaken belief that an imperialist attack was imminent, at best lost their focus and emphasis on the workers’ movement or, at worst, became apologists for the regime’s repression against workers and all other exploited and oppressed layers in Iranian society.

Iranian Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency
2 April 2015

The meeting of the heads of 15 European Union countries in Luxembourg on 17 June 2002, which followed up the recent position of European governments from a similar meeting a month earlier, has strengthened relations with Iran. Next September the Council of Ministers will begin discussions with Iran for the signing of an economic co-operation treaty (of course, depending on the European parliament ratifying it, which it probably will). During the past month the representatives of European countries have travelled to Iran many times to strengthen relations, and in return, the representatives of the regime have visited the leaders of European countries. For example, Mr Michel, the Belgian Foreign Minister, representing the foreign ministers of the 15 EU countries, recently went to Tehran and presented a report to the Luxembourg meeting. Before him Christopher Patten, the special representative of the EU for negotiations with the leaders of the regime, had gone to Iran. The regular trips of Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Deputy Foreign Minister, to various places in Europe and also the four day trip of the head of the Islamic Parliament, Mehdi Karroubi to Finland and then Ms Liisa Jaakonsaari, head of the Finnish parliament’s foreign policy commission, to Iran on 14 June, and their negotiations on the developments in Afghanistan and the Middle East and human rights (!); Karroubi’s trip to Austria and a meeting with Thomas Klestil, the President; the visit of Abbas-Ali Alizadeh the general head of Tehran province’s judiciary to Wiesbaden in Germany and meeting with the city’s public prosecutor, Dr Kumer; the trip of Ms Anna Lindh the Foreign Minister of Sweden to Iran last month; and so on are all aimed at preparing a “honeymoon” between the EU and the Iranian regime.

It is obvious that adding the name of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran to the list of terrorist organisations, and Iran being declared a safe country by international organisations, are part of these behind the scenes negotiations.

The reasons for the new course by the European leaders

The main reasons for such a new course must be sought in the international situation of western capitalist governments and also in the internal developments of the regime.

Europe’s disagreements with America

The new course of the heads of European governments is partly a reaction to the recent adventurist policies of the Bush government (and Sharon). After 11 September 2001, the Bush government organised the attack on Afghanistan to solve the economic crisis of America and after that, under the guise of a War on Terrorism, has declared war on all those who oppose him in the Third World. George Bush, in his speech on 29 January 2002 to joint session of the US Congress, by calling Iran, Iraq and North Korea an “axis of evil” attacked them. In this speech Bush declared that these countries seek to produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. He said: “With the production of these weapons of mass destruction these regimes create the danger of digging their own graves”. It is obvious that the reason for such an attack under the present conditions cannot be just to do with the nature of these regimes, because terrorist acts by the governments of Iran and Iraq is nothing new. The main issue is the economic crisis of the US itself. In fact Bush admitted in his speech that “American society is in an economic recession.”

This speech was made straight after the bankruptcy of Enron, one of the biggest American capitalist companies. A company that has, more than any other, direct political links with Bush and the Republican Party. On top of this, the bankruptcy of companies like K-Mart, Global Crossing, Sunbeam and all of the steel industry are an issue.

(The right-wing government of Sharon is also following this adventurist policy with the same phrases. It planned the attack on the towns of the West Bank of the River Jordan and Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah which caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent Palestinians; and the destruction of the economic base like cutting off the electricity and drinking water, food and medical supplies and so on.)

It is obvious that the US government’s policy of one-sided attacks and Bush’s bullying behaviour towards his opponents in the ‘Third World’ was not based on an agreement with the European governments and on the interests of European capitalists. Although world capitalism uses a general policy of aggression towards the capitalist countries of the Third World, nevertheless, they have their tactical differences. The economic interests of the European countries do not at the same time and in a uniform way correspond to those of the policies of the US government. The recent speeches of the representatives of European countries show this contradiction.

For example, the French ambassador in Tehran, Francois Nicolo, recently announced that: “The axis of evil does not exist for France” (Norooz newspaper, 15 June 2002). Ms Liisa Jaakonsaari, head of the Finnish parliament’s foreign policy commission, at her meeting with representatives of the Islamic parliament in Tehran claimed that for Finland “The harsh language of America against Iran, and that the Islamic Republic is part of the axis of evil, are unacceptable” (Hamshahri newspaper, 15 June 2002). The recent position of the representatives of the European parliament shows the opposition to the use of harsh words and the ultra-right policies of America’s Republicans. In the middle of this the British government, which until now was in America’s camp in every respect, has for the first time in the past decade separated itself from the US government. Of course, the US (and the Israeli) government have publicly protested against the policies of the European countries and show displeasure against this turn.

The regime’s reformers

One of the central analyses of the leaders of the European countries for becoming closer to the regime is that it appears to strengthen the ‘reformist’ wing within the regime. The view of Anna Lindh, the Foreign Minister of Sweden, before and after she went to Iran were published in Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden’s most respected newspapers, on 16 April 2002 was that “The trip to Iran is in fact support for that country’s reformers”. According to the Dagens Nyheter report, Anna Lindh then added that the oppression of the people in Iran is still “unacceptable”, but despite this, there have been changes in the country. She then said: “In Iran the reformist tendencies are growing. These groups want to change Iran, to make it modern and democratic and the President of Iran belongs to this wave.” According to Dagens Nyheter, the Foreign Minister of Sweden adds: “For all those who want to create reform in Iran, it is necessary to travel to that country and have close contact with them.” She continued: “Travelling to Iran was in fact to support the reformers in that country (Dagens Nyheter newspaper, 18 April 2002).

Ms Anna Lindh (and the heads of European countries) must first clarify what they mean by ‘reforms’ within the regime and then count out the steps that have been taken by the ‘reformers’. If these people were looking for the results of reforms and the reformers, then it would have been enough to take a look at the woeful situation of the people during the period of the President’s so-called reforms. Instead of behind the scenes ‘negotiations’ with people who have had a part in suppressing the human rights of workers, the youth and women, it would have been better to hold talks with the representatives of these oppressed layers. Obviously the motive of the heads of the European countries was not to find out the truth and the turn towards the regime is based on the economic interests of international capitalists.

‘Reforms’, even in the bourgeois sense, mean that demands like unemployment benefit, social insurance, paid holidays and so on, which were traditionally posed as part of the ‘minimum’ demands of the late nineteenth century social democratic predecessors of Ms Anna Lindh. The ‘reforms’ in Iran are even more limited than the demands of late nineteenth century social democracy. At a time when even the workers’ wages go unpaid for six months to a year in Iran, and the regime and its reformist factions shamelessly arrested and imprisoned the workers of Baresh textiles in Esfahan; when the workers of Jamco and Shadanpoor are shot in front of parliament; and when the slightest protest by workers is nipped in the bud – just because the workers demand their unpaid wages – how can the regime’s defenders among the heads of European countries imagine that reforms are taking place and growing? Ms Lindh forgets that Khatami, the leader of reforms, has been in power for over six years. The reformers also have a parliamentary majority. And yet the suppression and beating of workers and students has been taking place during the time of these very same ‘reformers’.

‘Reforms’ in the sense of achieving unemployment benefit, social insurance, the right to have holidays; ‘reforms’ in the sense of having democratic rights like the right to the freedom of speech; the right to organise and to strike; the freedom to found trade unions and independent workers’ organisations; free education for women and men at all levels; respect for human rights; the right to lodge complaints and to prosecute any government official by any citizen and so on, are demands that are approved by all of Iranian society. But, the ‘reformers’ – even those who are now in opposition – do not want such reforms and in practice have not taken the slightest step in this direction. When Khameneii, with just one mention, blocked the move by the majority of the reformist parliament (supposedly those who had been voted in by the people) for freedom of the media and newspapers of the reformers themselves, not even one of them protested. Then we cannot conclude that the ‘reformers’ can be expected to take steps about other basic issues.

The heads of the European countries surely know about these issues. But the two-faced nature of the governments, who supposedly support the freedom of speech and democratic rights, gets them into this contradictory position. The defence of reforms for the people of Iran is completely opposed to support for the ‘reformers’! The best and quickest way for achieving reforms in Iran is the international isolation of the regime in power and not strengthening it. The heads of the European countries, with their new turn towards signing economic-political treaties with the regime, show in practice that they do not want reforms!

The Iranian regime’s position in response to the EU’s turn

A day after the EU foreign ministers’ Luxembourg decision all the media welcomed this step. Hamid-Reza Asefi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, and Mohammad-Javad Zarif, the Deputy Foreign Minister, expressed their satisfaction with this decision. This event, on its own, shows the reduction of internal differences within the regime on the new orientation towards world capitalism.

Doubtless the ruling elite’s factions, just as before, have their own differences on having close relations with the capitalists’ governments, especially the American government. But, it should be mentioned that this time the differences on their policy vis-à-vis the US only became intensified when George Bush said that Iran was part of the ‘axis of evil’. Despite this, the ‘differences’ of the two ‘authoritarian’ and ‘reformist’ factions do not totally divide into ‘pro-western’ and ‘anti-western’ views. Right from the regime’s first day the internal differences were concerned with the two forms and ways of running a capitalist system. One view wants to maintain the present situation and continue with an Islamic (‘semi-feudal’) system and economy with a ‘particular’ relationship with world capitalism (as the governments of Syria and Libya); and the other dreams of a return to the golden age of the monarchy. The first is based on building power centres and making short-term profits; and the second wants a concentration of power and the creation of a modern capitalist system. The internal differences of the ruling elite have always been based on a power struggle between one faction against the other. At no time has there been any differences on the repression, intimidation and exploitation of workers. The latest repression of workers and students demonstrate this reality. At no time has antagonism against European and American governments reached the level of seeking independence from world capitalism – even at the height of the US Embassy siege and the propaganda about the ‘Great Satan’.

The ruling system in Iran is a unique form of capitalism. The internal clashes between the ‘Islamic system’ faction, and the faction favouring the creation of a modern capitalist system with an orientation towards world capitalism, has always existed. But during two decades the logic of capitalism has made the ‘moderate’ faction appear more acceptable.

For this reason world capitalism has constantly been strengthening the faction that is in favour of ‘modern’ capitalism. For world capitalism the existence of a concentrated capitalist state, which guarantees the flow of capital and capital investment, is a necessity. Obviously a ‘semi-feudal’ Islamic system with a mediaeval form would be incapable of this.

That is why two tendencies have continuously appeared within the ruling elite – although they have taken different forms at different times. In the beginning the Bazargan government supported the modern capitalist view; after that Banisadr, then Rafsanjani and Khatami and now Behzad Nabavi represent this tendency. Contrary to the views of many who think of the Khatami ‘reforms’ as a watershed, within this process the issue of ‘reformism’, as a tendency of world capitalism, has existed from the first day of the formation of the government of the Islamic Republic. The only difference is that under the present conditions this tendency has been strengthened. Today, the surrender of the ‘authoritarians’ to the logic of the capitalist process, because of the depth of the economic and political crisis in Iran, can be witnessed.

For example, recently Mohammad Khazaii, the Deputy Foreign Minister, declared that the regime has a problem with the US government but “has no differences with American merchants”! As if American merchants are a separate phenomenon from the US government! The Iranian regime, despite all the anti-American slogans and uproar, in the first three months of this year (1381) had exports worth $30 million to the US and imported $9 million worth of goods from America (Radio Azadi, 15 June 2002). Obviously, all the recent trips by the leaders of the regime to European countries, and the contacts with the US, would have been impossible if they had been carried out in secret and without consultation and even permission of the ‘authoritarian’ faction. It is clear today that the two factions of the ruling elite have reached a common set of view on establishing economic and political relations with the capitalist governments of Europe (and later with the US government). Of course, some of the regime’s right-wing elements will continue to express their opposition to this. But these differences have a mainly decorative aspect and are posed with demagogic aims for getting approval from the rank-and-file of the regime’s Hezbollahi base. Both factions of the regime today know full well that to preserve the present system and their own political power they themselves must accept the logic of going in the same direction as the imperialist governments. In other words, the creation of a Third World modern capitalist system (like that of the Shah) is on the agenda.

The perspective of the workers’ movement

Creating a modern capitalist system that is tied to the policies of the international banks and the world capitalist system will mean that foreign capital, and also the dollars of exiled Iranian capitalists, will flow into Iran. Foreign capitalists, who have for years been anticipating large investments in Iran’s industries and, because of the lack of any guarantees by the regime for the security of their capital, have concentrated their capital outside Iran’s borders, will in the next period enter Iran’s undeveloped economic scene by importing spare parts, training technicians and technocrats, professional managers and so on. All along one of the complaints of the ‘reformers’ has been the shortage of professional managers in the factories. For example, in a recent interview with Radio Azadi Massood Behnood complained about the non-professionalism of managers and gives this as one of the reasons for the failure of reforms.

Getting the wheels of industry into motion goes together with employing workers at a higher and more regular basis. Together with employment, gradually the uncertainty and insecurity that workers have about jobs (the fear of losing their job) will diminish and this process will in turn boost workers’ self-confidence. But this process will not end here. Due to reasons like the Iran-Iraq war, repression, wrong economic policies and incompetence of the regime’s leaders (especially the absolutist faction) Iran’s economy has fallen behind the times. The newly established and modern capitalism will for many years have to make up for this backwardness. It will be forced to increase the intensity of labour. New and advanced machinery, educated managers who are knowledgeable about management issues, the rational economic planning, will increase the intensity of labour among workers and, as a result, the workers will be condemned to endure super-exploitation. Super-exploitation together with self-confidence among workers will mark a new stage in workers’ struggles.

For the first time in over two decades of capitalist rule, the contradictions between ‘labour’ and ‘capital’ will appear as more noticeable and precise than before. Also, the modus operandi, both of the capitalists and workers will change. If in the past the imposition of a mediaeval Labour Code, together with the naked repression of workers, was part of the regime’s policy; in the next period a new Labour Code that, on the face of it is written in accord with international laws and regulations, will be in force. In other words, if in the previous period they used an iron fist, then in the next period, they will use an iron fist in a velvet glove to smash workers’ struggles.

The capitalists’ method for implementing this super-exploitation is to create bodies and laws that are acceptable to the international banks and capitalist governments of the world. Of course, the preparation for creating such a process has been going on for a number of years. For example, the ” restructuring of the Labour House” (according to Hassan Sadeghi); the re-activation of the Labour House regarding labour issues and raising the profiles of the Islamic Labour Party and the High General Commission of Islamic Labour Councils; adopting the central slogans of the workers; posing and explaining the necessity of “workers’ strikes” in Kar-o Kargar [meaning Work and Worker, is the daily paper of the Labour House]; and so on. All these show the reformers’ preparations for laying the groundwork for a period of intimidation and exploitation of workers within the context of a modern capitalist system.

If we reflect on the writings of the reformers, the underlying reason why the supporters of modern capitalism are putting forward labour issues becomes clear. For example, Jafar Kamboozia, the MP for Zabol, said in an interview that strikes would be acceptable by the system on the condition that they are “the last resort of the workers and no harm comes to the system or economy of the country” (“The right to strike is the workers’ right”, Kar-o Kargar, 12 Dey 1380 [2 January 2002]). Also, Dr Nateghpoor, sociologist and member of the science commission of Tehran University, said: “Although workers’ strikes can be an effective way of taking action, but we must take care that this method must usually have legal support. Because in a society where workers’ strikes are thought of as a way of confronting the government and the political structure of the country, it is obvious that this action will go hand-in-hand with complications and negative results for workers.” (“Workers’ strikes: A necessary and a possibility”, Kar-o Kargar, 11 Dey [1 January 2002]). Or, Hassan Taghizadeh, the head of the High Commission of Islamic Labour Councils, who describes strikes as a necessity but says: “Strike must be remote from political tendencies” (“Strikes, the undeniable right of workers”, Kar-o Kargar, 11 Dey).

In other words, the supporters of the bourgeoisie within the labour movement accept workers’ strikes on the condition that they are devoid of their real content. Even in European capitalist countries there is never talk of having strikes that do not harm the economy. The ideologues of the regime must explain how the workers can stop work and go on strike, and, at the same time, not damage the economy? Contrary to the ideologues, strikes are an economic and a political weapon in the hands of workers, which are used for getting out of the confines of laws imposed by the capitalist government. If strikes are supposed to take place within the framework of capitalist laws and with the permission of the people who are exploiting the workers, then we can no longer called them ‘strikes’! Workers’ strikes are for gaining rights that the capitalists do not want to bear. Strikes are a weapon that the workers have for demonstrating their power.

Even during a short strike the workers set up a strike committee. Having a strike committee is itself an organisational measure. A strike committee is the first seed of workers’ power against the power of the capitalists. The success or defeat of a strike shows the existence or absence of workers’ power in society. The continuation of a strike and its general extension can pose the question of dual power (workers’ or capitalists’) in society. Strikes can change the balance of power in favour of workers at a general level. It can pose the question of workers’ power and the ousting of bourgeois power. So it is obvious that the debate about “strikes within the legal framework of the government” of the bourgeoisie is a totally false point of view.

That is why the workers must formulate their own rules on organisational issues. If it would be impossible to draw up these rules then it would also be impossible for independent workers’ organisations to exist. Independent workers’ organisations cannot be formed together or side-by-side with state institutions, because all these bodies are built by the bourgeois state and are tools for intimidating and slowing down the process of rebuilding the labour movement. Heading these state bodies is the Labour House. To create the independent workers’ organisations all state bodies must become powerless.

Deviations within the workers’ opposition

One of the deviant theories is based on the belief that the Labour House can be reformed and improved, and that the role of the vanguard workers is to be active within this institution to make it more radical. One of the theorists of this deviant tendency is Yadollah Khosravi (the former secretary of the oil refinery workers’ union also known as Khosroshahi among exiles). In his recent interview with Andishe-ye Jame-emagazine (Society’s Thought, published in Iran) Khosravi expresses his views on the Labour House in the following way. The interviewer asks Yadollah Khosravi’s opinion on the Labour House, based on the assumption that some of the labour-activist critics, call the Labour House a “state” institution and not an independent one. Yadollah Khosravi replies that one of the faults of the Labour House is that it is like a political party. Because in its constitution issues like: “Support for the struggle of dispossessed peoples of the world in their struggle for their rights and freedom” and the “struggle against … racism and Zionism …” has been posed. He therefore believes that the Labour House is an organisation like a political party, not an independent workers’ organisation, and “we cannot call it a labour organisation”. And also that in the Labour House’s constitution the “dividing line between political and labour organisations has been made blurred” (it would be better if Yadollah Khosravi shows that under the present conditions in Iran how the workers’ labour issues can be separated from their political problems – even in European countries labour unions also deal with political issues). The other fault he finds is that the leaders of the Labour House are engineers and not workers (Andishe-ye Jame-e, No. 23, Ordibehesht 1381 [April-May 2002], p.40). And at the end of his interview he quotes approvingly the position of Hassan Sadeghi, the head of the Islamic Labour Councils: “The organisation rebuilding of the Labour House is an urgent matter.” (ibid, p 41). He then deals with explaining the meaning of independent workers’ organisations and says: Workers’ economic independent organisations that include all workers … regardless of the faith, colour of skin, sex, political affiliation of the individual and so on. This organisation takes in all workers who … are employed in the work environment and does not have a no entry sign (ibid, p.42).

Therefore, Yadollah Khosravi does not in principle have an objection to the Labour House being a state institution and only wants to reform or “organisationally rebuild” it. The logic of his discussion points to removing political issues from the Labour House’s constitution and that workers, instead of engineers, should take charge then there is no objection to workers intervening and participating in such a body. Obviously this is a view that from the root wants to compromise with the capitalist state.

Firstly, this experienced worker (the former secretary of the oil refinery workers’ union), and, on the face of it someone who is against the capitalist state, after all these years ‘activity’ in the labour movement still does not understand the meaning of the capitalist state. He confuses the meaning of the ‘state’. On the one hand, he says that “independent workers’ organisations must be independent from the state and political parties” (ibid, p.42), and, on the other, he wants to reform the Labour House. He, like the other trends within the international labour movement who seek compromise, thinks of the state as only a form of state (the legislature, the executive and the judiciary). Whereas from the point of view of anti-capitalist forces the concept of the state goes beyond these. The capitalist state includes not only the capitalist government, parliament, the repressive apparatus and the armed forces; it also includes the propaganda machinery, mosques, the mass media, educational centres and also its labour and political institutions. All of these institutions together ensure the exploitation of the working class. Therefore, a body called Labour House is also part of the deception and repression of the workers and has been planned for this purpose. We only need to look at the claims of the Labour House to prove this: “The distance and closeness of the Labour House with government or their decisions is tied with the way of looking at workers’ interests. At no time has total enmity … been dominant ” (This is the house of all workers, Labour House Public Relations, Andishe-ye Jame-e, No. 23, p. 76 – emphasis added). It is obvious that the concept of independence from the state must include independence from the Labour House. That is because the two are linked together.

Secondly, the rebuilding of a modern capitalist system and the establishment of pro-state ‘reformers’ also needs organisations with the working class. Labour House, the High Commission of the Islamic Labour Councils and the Islamic Labour Party have all been designed for the strengthening of the capitalist system in a new form. Therefore labour-political struggles of workers for forming independent labour organisations cannot be possible without struggles against these organisations. The Labour House is a tool in the hands of capitalism for the crushing and suppression of workers. There can be no truce between the independent workers’ organisations and the Labour House. One is the opposite of the other.

Thirdly, Yadollah Khosravi thinks that the capitalist state is capable of have supporters of the capitalist system among the workers. He says that independent workers’ organisations do not have a ‘no entry’ sign for any workers. Clearly there can be no bar on the entry of workers into independent workers’ organisations. But what is to become of workers who work in a factory, are from working class families and yet, at the same time, are part of the capitalist state? Workers who today head bodies like the Islamic Labour Party or the Labour House are the same people who represent the capitalists within the working class and are preparing the implementation of superexploitation. Was it not the case that during the Shah’s reign, as Yadollah Khosravi himself says, a ‘workers organisation’ made of SAVAK agents-workers existed? (ibid, p.40.) Obviously independent workers’ organisations, which are supposed to be independent of the state, must also be independent of all workers’ elements that support the capitalist state. There is no “‘no entry’ sign” outside independent workers’ organisations, except for the supporters of capital and the supporter of the capitalist system. It is clear that Yadollah Khosravi’s motive for posing the slogan of “there is no no entry sign” within the workers’ movement is for opening the door of independent  organisations to the activists of the Labour House. And through this to give a nod and a wink to the modern capitalist regime of the future.

Those people in the workers’ left opposition who today want to create a bridge between the workers’ vanguard and the Labour House are not only not doing a service to the independent workers’ movement, but are themselves becoming a barrier in front of the workers’ movement. The struggle against the ‘reformers’ of the capitalist state is inseparable from exposing and isolating the supporters of co-ordination with state bodies.

The vanguard workers and the whole of the working class (and all of society) demand reforms in the sense that they of gain their democratic rights and a free atmosphere for bargaining and defence of labour and political rights. But, the aim of the capitalist state from ‘reforms’ is different from the workers’ aim of reforms. These two types of ‘reforms’ will confront each other in the future.

11 July 2002


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