First Conference of IRMT

The political situation in Iran and the need to form the Iranian Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency

In September a small gathering of Iranian Marxists decided to launch the Iranian Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency (IRMT), the Iranian section of the IMT. Here we provide the opening speech by comrade Maziar Razi, where he outlines the economic crisis affecting Iran, the divisions that have opened up within the tops of the regime and the ongoing militancy of the working class and youth. The IRMT has given itself the task of building a Marxist wing within the Iranian labour movement, in preparation for the historical events that will unfold in the coming years.

Maziar Razi
Maziar Razi, at the 2008 World Congress of the IMT

Opening speech of Comrade Maziar Razi

Greetings to all comrades present in the conference!

I want to start my discussion by reminding you of a historic event. In 1898 there was a small congress made up of nine people in the city of Minsk. This small number of people founded a small group called the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. Although all members of the group were arrested immediately afterwards, the founding of it however, was an important historic event. This group later became known as the Communist Party of Russia (Bolsheviks). Less than 30 years after this nine-person meeting, the greatest workers’ revolution in history of humanity was organised by the Bolsheviks in October 1917 in Russia. We are the followers of those organisational traditions.

Comrades! Today’s conference is also a historic event. But today we face enormous tasks.

The first question that must be answered is this: why are we organising our first conference in this situation and why today? Why was this conference not organised a few years ago or why can’t we delay it until a few years from now?

For those who believe in the principles of a Leninist party, and are aware of and understand the party’s importance, and are not steeped in pseudo-anarchist, pseudo-Menshevik and centrist deviations, and are also not overcome by despair and exhaustion, the answer is very simple. Answering this question is only possible by reviewing society’s objective and subjective situation.

Lenin always underlined four important conditions for explaining a pre-revolutionary situation and the organisational preparation necessary for the coming revolution in society. 1- A deep economic and political crisis and divisions inside the ruling clique. 2- The aggravation of the masses’ situation. 3- Organisation and continuity of workers’ struggles against the capitalist system. 4- A revolutionary leadership for organising social revolution and the establishment of a workers’ government.

Of all the objective conditions mentioned above all can more or less to be found in Iranian society. The only thing that is absent is the subjective factor, i.e., the absence of a revolutionary leadership. If this assessment is correct, it is self-evident that preparations for forming a Leninist party should be the main task of revolutionary Marxists. In other words, the fundamental strategy of revolutionary Marxists is to form a revolutionary vanguard party.

Lenin always underlined four important conditions for explaining a pre-revolutionary situation and the organisational preparation necessary for the coming revolution in society.

So the answer to the above question is: the situation forpreparing the building of such a party is better today than ever before. Until now, the conditions were not as ready (and we were not as ready as we are today either) and forming it in the future would also be late. Because you can’t wait until the period of a revolutionary upsurge (which in a society like Iran only comes about once every few decades) and then build a revolutionary vanguard party overnight, and then imagine that with the appearance of an organisation decisive sections of the masses will suddenly join this party! No, such an analysis would be in contradiction with the experience of the October 1917 revolution and Bolshevik traditions. Preparations for building a revolutionary vanguard party should begin years before its formation.

But since this party should be built with the vanguard workers (the “worker-intellectuals”), we must build a bridge to fill this gap today. A bridge that can connect today’s dispersed situation of revolutionary Marxists to the formation of a revolutionary vanguard party. This bridge is called the Iranian Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency and today we are holding its first conference.

With brief comments on objective factors in society, we should assess to what extent the conditions mentioned by Lenin are consistent with the current situation of Iranian society.

The crisis of the capitalist state

a) The economic crisis in society

The way to evaluate the economic situation is through assessing inflation and unemployment which are two integral parts of the capitalist system. Capitalists are forced to buy the labour power of workers in the market and to exploit them in order to increase their profit (surplus value). But this simple form of exploitation is not enough to quench the thirst of capitalists for wealth. In order to achieve more profit, capitalists must lower wages and increase prices as much as possible. In western industrial countries, which have a history of trade unions and labour resistance, this is mainly done through improvements in production technology (new machinery leads to less necessary labour time in the advanced industries). But in backward capitalist societies (like Iran) the exploitation of workers is done in much more a primitive manner (just like the late 19th century or early 20th century in Europe). Not only are wages kept low but they are in many cases not even paid at all! This leads to a lower purchasing power for people and some products not being sold. The capitalists, in order to solve this problem, enter into fiercer competition with each other and some go out of business. As a result more people become unemployed and society’s overall purchasing power decreases. The economic crisis intensifies. This crisis reveals itself as a crisis of over-production. This means that society doesn’t have the power to purchase what is produced. This is when inflation also increases quickly because of an increase in bankruptcies. Factories are closed one after another or lower their production capacity. Lowering production capacity means an increase in production costs. There are daily increases in unemployment. In Iran’s case there are lots of statistics for this turmoil.

For example:

In its July 2008 report the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) assessed the Iranian labour market up to 2012 and it predictsd that the labour force will increase from last year’s 23,700,000 to 24,300,000 in the current year, a 2.8 percent increase, which will mean more than 25,000,000 in the coming year. The EIU expects that the current year’s unemployment rate of 12 percent (2,600,000 people) will go up to 12.9 percent in the next year (meaning more than 3,250,000 unemployed people). In 2010 the number of employed people in Iran will be 25,700,000 and the unemployment rate will be 13.2 percent. And in 2011 these will increase to 26,400,000 people and 14.1 percent respectively. And in 2012 we finally will have a 27 million-strong work force in the country and also a 15 percent unemployment rate that will be bearing down on the government (meaning more than 4,000,000 unemployed people).

The Central Bank’s 2008 report shows that in the fifth month of the Iranian calendar [22 July-21 August] the upward trend in the price of commodities is continuing. Government and Central Bank programmes for stopping this have been ineffective. The inflation rate in Iran is determined by calculating the prices of 359 types of commodities and services and the average of these prices in August shows that inflation continues to grow in Iran. The Central Bank of Iran calculates the inflation rate every month but the official inflation rate is usually set based on year-on-year changes. Based on the new report of the Central Bank, in the past 12 months until the end of August, the average inflation rate has been about 22.3 percent. This report proves that the inflation rate has increased about 10 percent in the past year and a half. (Unofficial statistics are actually higher and inflation is probably close to 35 percent).

The price of petrol, which was rationed last summer, is 1000 Rials (10 cents) a litre and non-rationed petrol is sold at 4000 Rials (40 cents). Based on the government’s economic plan, in three and a half years the petrol price will no longer be subsidised by the government and petrol will be on sale at the international market price. In addition, international pressures to solve the problem of uranium enrichment and international economic sanctions on Iranian banks have made the economic situation worse.

In recent months the market for consumer goods has seen a lot of changes and prices of consumer goods have been increasing every day. The increase in liquidity is the most important reason for the rampant growth in the inflation rate and, based on various reports, has exceeded 1,600,000 billion rials (although, from a Marxist point of view, the main root of inflation is the decrease in the mass of total profit in the society). Reports show that in the past three years a significant part of the oil income has been transformed into Rials and liquidity has increased from 700,000 billion Rials to more than 1,600,000 billion Rials ($160bn). The majority of this huge amount of money was poured into the housing market with the result that it increased house prices several times over. Iran’s foreign revenue in the past three years has been estimated at around $250 billion. Economists say that the government, by transforming all these into Rials and injecting them into the economy, has led to a sharp increase in inflation. A part of this income has been used in non-productive sectors and for covering current spending of the government and, based on what economists say, this has led to an increase in liquidity and rising inflation.

But the usual method of government administrators is to put all the problems and burdens on the shoulders of the workers. Today, more than ever, a majority of workers are under the threat of joining the urban poor. Hundreds of thousands of active and employed workers have become unemployed and homeless due to government policies. The price of basic necessities is increasing every day and not a single substantial step has been taken to control this. The policies of the capitalists have put workers on the brink of financial ruin. Millions of workers are desperately in need of the daily bread for themselves and their families. Those who aren’t unemployed yet will join the ranks of the poor with any further increase in prices. According to government statistics, 14 million people live below the poverty line (this is based on the poverty line defined by the government as a monthly income of about 1,200,000 Rials ($124) but the real poverty line today is about 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 Rials (around $300 to $400). This means that up to 20 million people could be living below the poverty line).

A general picture of the economic prospects shows us that out of a population of 70 million only a third is in the labour market (27 million). Out of this, about 4 to 5 million will be unemployed. With further increases in population we will reach explosive situations. The oil revenue is mostly used to buy arms and aid Hezbollah in the region. The rest is used to provide loans to a few government supporters, without any scrutiny or accounting, and there is no economic programme and clear perspective to solve the problems of the masses. As a result a significant portion of young workers and the educated youth will make a stand against a weakened capitalist system. This huge protesting population is the potential force of the coming revolution.

b) The political crisis of the capitalist government

After three years of Ahmadinejad's presidency, the reformists have started their own (to quote Rafsanjani) At the political level, the “leaders” are in a crisis and continue to take contradictory positions on solving national and international issues.

For example:

In recent years the government has always been divided between the “absolutists” and the “reformists”. With Ahmadinejad’s policies, both national and international, the divisions within the traditional factions have not only increased but deep divisions have also appeared inside each traditional faction; this has become so bad that Khamenei [the Supreme Leader of the Islamic regime], during his Friday prayer speech on September 19th 2008, had to intervene officially to patch up divisions among the “principalists” [“principalist” is a relatively new term referring to the right wing of the government. It consists of, but is not exclusive to, Ahmadinejad’s faction]! Khamenei declared that the stance of Rahim Mahasyi, Head of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organisation, on friendship with the Israeli people was wrong; the same stance that Ahmadinejad had approved a day before! Khamenei asked both sides (as if they were stubborn children) to end their quarrelling!

The 10th Presidential elections are due in nine months and the number of “principalist” candidates indicates the depth of divisions within the ruling clique. Ahmadinejad now has to compete with his former allies: Ali Larijani (the Speaker of Parliament), Gholamali Hadad Adel (the Speaker of the 7th Parliament and Head of the Cultural Commission) and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf (Tehran’s Mayor). The rest are fiercely fighting against each other. Protests against pro-Ahmadinejad ministers and resignations by his followers are continuing. For example, on September 8th Brigadier Alireza Afshar resigned from his post as Political Deputy of the Interior Ministry. Tahmasb Mazaheri, Chairman of the Central Bank, who has held this position for just one year, and is considered to be one of Ahmadinejad’s closest allies, will resign in a few days’ time because of disagreements with Ahmadinejad’s policies.

After three years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the reformists have started their own (to quote Rafsanjani) “uncompromising” protest against his policies. Rafsanjani has protested about Article 44 of the Constitution and lack of progress with the privatisations (August 11th) and has criticised Ahmadinejad’s policies (August 16th) and Khatami has also criticised Ahmadinejad (September 14th) and so on.

At the same time, divisions among the reformists themselves have also intensified. Old allies in the reformist faction are standing against each other in the Presidential elections: Mohammad Khatami (a former two times president), Mehdi Karoobi (former Speaker of Parliament), Abdullah Noori (former Interior Minister), Ali Akbar Velayati (Adviser to the Supreme Leader), Hassan Rohani (former Secretary for Supreme National Security Council) have entered the race, each with different policies. Karoobi intends to form a political bloc with a section of the anti-Ahmadinejad “principalists” in order to sideline Ahmadinejad and Khatami.

It is obvious that this is a crisis situation; there is no sign of stability, power or unity in the capitalist government of Iran. The first and second objective factors that Lenin mentioned, i.e., 1- a deep economic and political crisis and division in the ruling clique and 2- the deterioration of the situation of the masses, are absolutely true for the Iranian situation.

The situation of the social movements

a) The persistence of workers’ struggles

Despite the repression, harsh treatment and the very grave economic situation, we can really say that the balance of forces is changing in favour of workers and all oppressed layers. This change in the balance of forces in favour of the workers means the working class in Iran has not been defeated and is still resisting and fighting the capitalist system to realise its demands. Not only has the working class not accepted defeat but is continuing its struggles, with few resources, without becoming demoralised.

Here are the protests from just the past week:

  • The strike and protests of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane workers prove that a section of Iranian workers do have the ability to maintain effective anti-capitalist slogans (like workers’ control) and are continuing their resistance boldly and with courage. Recently a 600-strong gathering of Haft Tapeh workers protested against the factory’s managers.
  • The strike at Alborz Tyre still continues. They haven’t received their wages for five months.
  • Khuzestan Pipe Co. organised a gathering in Shohada Square of Ahvaz on September 9th, protesting against six months’ unpaid wages.
  • The Vahed bus drivers left their bus lights on demanding the release of Mansour Osanloo.
  • The workers of Parris Factory, Gharb Bafte Sanandaj Carpet, Kurdistan Textile Factory, Ramshir Factory and so on continued their demonstrations.

It is obvious that during the past year the capitalist state has been determined to maximise its blows against the working class. The arrests of known labour activists like Mahmoud Salehi and Mansour Osanloo, arrests and intimidation of hundreds of honourable workers, teachers, women and students in society; the flogging of workers and other layers, all demonstrates this intimidating method. The capitalist state has tried to intimidate progressive worker, student and women activists so that they would stop their activities and submit to the capitalist state. That way the exploitation of workers would be easier and the capitalists’ pockets would be fuller.

But has the capitalist state succeeded? Has it changed the balance of forces against the working class? Could we say that the capitalist state is stronger and the working class weaker than they were last year? In my opinion, no!

The strike and protests of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane workers prove that a section of Iranian workers do have the ability to maintain effective anti-capitalist slogans.

It is obvious that workers have received some blows during this period. All over the world the struggles of workers against the capitalist state brings about state aggression against workers. And it is evident that among progressive activists there is an atmosphere of fear of more arrests. Some have temporarily become disillusioned and have lost the continuity of their struggles. The spectre of the police and Intelligence Ministry networks haunting labour activists can be felt.

But among the huge mass of workers no defeat has taken place. Not only has the working class not been defeated by the capitalist state but it has actually gained some advantages in the past year’s struggles and strikes (Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane strike is the most important sign of this fact). Because the mass of workers in this grave economic situation has no time to accept defeat from the capitalist system! They must either be victorious or accept the annihilation of themselves and their families. In fact workers’ struggles have continued. Thus, we can argue that the overall class balance of forces is in favour of workers and against the capitalist state.

The third condition in Lenin’s discussion can also obviously be seen in Iran, i.e., organisation and continuity of workers’ struggle against the capitalist system.

b) The crisis of the workers’ vanguard

But among the practical leaders (the workers’ vanguard), in contradiction to the mass of workers themselves, there is a crisis. If this analysis is correct, then shouldn’t we seek to find the root of the slowdown or reluctance of the vanguard workers to continue the struggle? Its root is definitely not the strengthening of the economic situation and state power. As we said, divisions inside the government have increased. The economic crisis is deeper than during last year. The limited international economic sanctions have affected the government fundamentally.

Pressures, intimidation and arrests by the weak and crisis-ridden capitalist government can only be effective when the workers’ movement lacks organisation and leadership. It is evident that mass mobilisation of workers is hard in times of repression. The mass of workers only fight against the capitalist government when they have had enough. But what is more important is the lack of preparation of the workers’ vanguard to resist against the current situation. The workers’ vanguard in Iran has paid a heavy price. The struggles of worker activists during the past two decades are admirable. But the workers’ vanguard has gone into crisis because of the lack of co-ordination, the absence of any united organisation and flouting internal democracy and not participating and not intervening continuously within the mass of workers. And this critical situation gives the government a better opportunity to continue the repression.

c) The centrifugal forces of teachers, women and students

The continuity of struggles and resistance of different social layers in the past period, especially teachers, workers, women and students, has made the state extremely worried. These social layers mainly have centrifugal tendencies within them. In other words, they have until recently been supporters of the reformists in government or have been backing the system in one way or another.

These developments and centrifugal tendencies can be seen inside Daftar-e Tahkim (the Office for Strengthening Unity, a students’ association) and even Khaneh-ye Kargar (the Labour House) and even inside the teachers’ actions. Actually we can say that the capitalist state is more worried about the collapse of support among its own base. But these centrifugal tendencies have only one way to go and that’s towards general socialist ideas and programmes. It is not accidental that many of the students inside Daftar-e Tahkim have turned to socialist ideas. In the not too distant future these tendencies will be seen in large sections of the teachers, workers and women. There is no doubt that eventually socialist tendencies will have the upper hand in these movements.

d) The students’ movement

Last year’s clampdown was mostly meant to terrorise and exhaust the fighters. The period of executions and long-term clampdowns, under the present conditions, is over (this situation has been imposed on the government by the students’ own resistance and international pressure). But this doesn’t mean that we are entering a period of democratic openings in society. In countries like Iran, as long as a capitalist government holds the power, because of the uneven growth of capitalism, we should not expect political openings like western states, so repression and intimidation will continue (and with the support of the western states), but as opposed to the 1980s, the aim is to make the activists “exhausted” and not to kill them and imprison them for a long time. It is therefore obvious that organisation should be more precise, more specific and more adapted to the current situation.

In the current situation the building of united action blocs is on the agenda. The experience of December 3rd last year proved that the balance of forces is not in favour of a specific group or tendency so that they can organise a protest by themselves. Last year’s Students’ Day commemoration (December 6th) should have been like the year before: by all forces and diverse tendencies so the government couldn’t attack a specific tendency in isolation. In this regard, after the attack and arrests, the correctness of holding united protests together with other tendencies and student groups was proven. This method, instead of going it alone, was emphasised because different tendencies and groups all acted together in support of those who were arrested. Student activists learnt in practice that you can’t come to the political arena with only one slogan and one tendency and then ask all tendencies for support and to join the campaign. Most importantly, last year’s experience proved once again that you can’t organise a mass action openly. Leadership and organisation of a protest must be clandestine, so that the organisers can’t be arrested beforehand and can lead the protests on the agreed date. Work within the masses doesn’t necessarily mean organising openly (student activists should have learnt this lesson from the Vahed bus drivers’ strike. The type of clampdown by the government was the same in both protests, just as the type of organisation by the activists was the same).

e) The crisis of the traditional organisations

The political crisis of the traditional organisations (Stalinists, Maoists, centrists and so on) in exile is at its height now. Splits, divisions, resignations, abandoning politics, expulsions and antagonisms have become commonplace for these petty-bourgeois tendencies. These organisations are not only unable to lead the social layers but they can’t even organise themselves (we have written numerous articles on these organisations before and will not go into this matter now because of the lack of time).

Solving the question of the leadership crisis

It is evident that Lenin’s fourth condition has not been realised yet. In other words, in Iran we have yet to build a credible Bolshevik party, trusted by the masses of workers and students. None of the existing parties and organisations that have entered the political arena with boastful names like “communist” and “workers'” neither present an alternative leadership nor have entered their political campaign with calculated moves and a correct political line. So they have intensified the crisis inside the workers’ movement.

It is in this situation that we, as the Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency, have started our theoretical and practical activities in continuity with our past experiences, so as to build a bridge, to reach and build the revolutionary vanguard party and together with the workers and all oppressed people eventually go towards establishing a soviet system and eventually a socialist society.

In the coming period we must try to build our political credibility inside the workers’ movement. This is not an easy task. We can’t do it with a few slogans and presenting a few “leaders”. Comrades we should stay side-by-side with the working class and be present in the struggles of all oppressed people and to be with them during every step of their anti-capitalist struggles. We can only reach our final goals with close participation and direct intervention in the mass movements. Based on our internationalist orientation and the support of the comrades of the International Marxist Tendency across five continents, we are sure that the revolutionary Marxist traditions will establish a solid base within these movements.

Comrades, victory will be ours!
Long live the Revolutionary Marxists of Iran!
Long live socialism!

September 22nd, 2008


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