National Sections of the L5I:

Iran: "Initially it was emotional, now it is political"

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

As the movement against the Ayatollahs' regime spread across Iran, the League for the Fifth International interviewed Ali Rezaei, an Iranian socialist.

LFI: We would like to express our sympathy. We know many people, and almost all socialists, in Iran, have lost a loved one, or are fearing for one. How do you feel when you now see thousands of people fighting back on the streets of Iran?

AR: The people of Iran are challenging a barbaric clergy, whose brutality has soaked in blood the youth, women, workers, the poor, liberals, progressives, socialists and everyone with a different point of view. In every city, in fact in every family, there are examples of people who have faced not only oppression and violence but also death. The clergy have made life a torture.

This is not an ordinary movement, there is a hatred against clergy that has exploded. The killing of Mahsa Amini has sparked a revolution in which women have played a central role and students are also very important. They have always been crucial in the movements of the past. Iranian society has rejected the rule of the clergy.

Mahsa’s killing has crushed fear. Initially, it was emotional, but now it is political, a threat to the regime that has oppressed the masses for four decades. The movement has united the common people, it appears that the end of this repressive regime is possible. This drives the struggle forward and has brought in Kurds, Baloch, Arabs as well as the workers and poor people.

The revolt that has spread across universities and schools is encouraging. Before it was activists who hoped that this dark night would end, now this sentiment is shared across society which refuses to accept this Sharia system. Oppression and tyranny will no longer be tolerated, people are fighting against it and for freedom.

LFI: Mahsa symbolises the brutality of the morality police, and the oppression of the Kurdish people. Now she has also become a bond, that has reunited the resistance. How has Mahsa's death affected you?

AR: Her real name is not Mahsa Amini. You can't use Kurdish names in Iran. Her real name is Jina. This shows how severe national oppression is in Iran. The way protesters were killed after the rape of a Baloch girl, that is the real face of this Islamist government. Whether it was under the Shah or the clergy, extreme forms of oppression, backwardness and poverty have existed in the areas of the oppressed nations. But there has also been resistance, sometimes armed. Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Baloch are one in this movement and the slogans against national oppression and the ruling regime unite the movement.

For Iranian citizens, the regime of the clergy has been a trap for decades. As part of this movement against the killing of Mahsa, many young women and students are facing imprisonment. In fact, many have already been brutally killed. Death to the dictatorship! It is a vampire! The foundations of this system stand in the blood that this infamous religious dictatorship has spilt. We are all Jina. Solidarity with this revolution gives us hope. I appeal to women and workers around the world to continue supporting this struggle against the oppression that the worst decadence of the capitalist system and imperialism has created.

LFI: We are hearing reports of a new generation of young Iranian women who no longer bow, either to the state or its ideology.

AR: The attitude of the clerical regime had become unbearable for women even before this murder. There is a wonderful history of women's movements in Iran. A sense of power already existed, but the death of Mahsa turned that into a revolution.

Women do not accept the hijab and other restrictions. Youth and students, who play an important role, are difficult for the mullahs to control. Hatred and anger are high. One of the main reasons, as well as the restrictions and suppression, is the economic crisis. Hope has been taken away from the young generation and their only option is to fight.

The situation is very different now. A large majority of the population wants to get rid of the mullahs. Women play an important role in mobilising, but now all layers are entering the movement. Even religious people hate this government now, that means the roots of the clerical regime have become hollow and its base is very weak.

LFI: Can you tell us something about the mindset of this new generation, that we all hope will be the guarantor of future freedom?

AR: Young people make up more than 60 percent of Iranian society. They do not bear the burden of past defeats and they are in touch with the modern world, even though there are many problems and the situation is very complicated. However, inflation and unemployment have affected every layer of society. The middle class is also severely affected by this and that is why the movement includes different layers.

On the other hand, the popularity of the mullahs has declined to the lowest point and it is becoming difficult to control these youth. They are angry at the humiliation that they, especially women, face. Society is so suffocated already, but even more restrictions are being imposed to take control of the situation. Women are not only humiliated, they are forcibly arrested and disappeared, and family members are also humiliated. The whole system is based on fear and oppression, and the youth no longer accept it.

LFI: How are the morality police and the regime responding to this young generation? Can you tell us something about the practices of the morality police and the suffering they cause?

AR: The Iranian state and its institutions used to be able to crush any resistance through coercive violence. Since 2009, different movements have been crushed by the brutal repression, disappearances, arrests and massacres carried out by the Wilayah-e-Faqih gang, the murderous guards, and others. The oppression of the Kurds and Baloch is particularly extreme.

Even before Covid, the ongoing economic crisis contributed to a sharp rise in poverty, inflation, and unemployment. At the moment, more than 40 per cent of Iranian people are living below the poverty line.
The killing of Mahsa Amini became an immediate catalyst but the causes already existed for this revolution. The brutality of the state has not decreased but now it is not a single layer’s fight, even religious people want to get rid of them, the majority will not accept this system and want a way out. The bravery shown by women and female students is a slap in the face of the regime. Despite the fact that massacres, arrests and disappearances are widespread, this maintains the morale of the movement. Although there is fear in the previous generation, who fear for their children, their bravery instils hope in the parents, too.

LFI: We hear of new networks amongst radical students and within the trade union movement. How effective are they and what role have they been playing on the ground?

AR: The protest movement broke out spontaneously but there is coordination and it is not only communicated through internet appeals. There is local coordination as well. People talk about the current situation in the protests and they also discuss the strategy for action. There are networks of students in universities, which reject the authority of the mullahs. There are working class organisations organising protests and strikes. All of these have an important role to play but the lack of a leadership that can force countrywide change is felt even more severely now. The killing of Mahsa Amini has united Iran, but there are contradictions and we need a strategy that can push back the mullahs and advance the revolution further.
LFI: What does the economic crisis mean? What are the prospects for the Left?

AR: The economic crisis has wreaked havoc in Iran, the prices of basic necessities have increased by more than 60 per cent. The middle class is ruined and the workers' conditions are terrible. Stories of mullahs’ corruption are common. Factories are closing down, those producing spare parts have lost 100,000 jobs. The people of Iran are also fed up with the mullah regime’s interventionist policy in other countries, which thrusts their lives further into isolation from the world. They are all involved in the revolution “Woman. Life. And Liberty”. All see the solution to the economic crisis in the death of the dictatorship. The situation is very difficult, there is no one current that is very powerful, there is even (limited) support from liberals and Pahlavi supporters, but there is also room for socialist ideas. In economic terms, socialists have a perspective for the end of the mullah regime that brings freedoms and an end to economic oppression.

LFI: Has the movement hit the industrial centres of Iran, too? After all, the inflation and the overall crisis, must drive many working class people and families to the edge. What demands specifically address the class question?

AR: The struggle is is developing in the working class and they are involved in the protests but many of their leaders have been arrested. The working class is participating in it in different cities, especially the teachers are very active in this regard. In Tehran, bus drivers are mobilised, and fuel tanker drivers went on strike on October 19 in solidarity with the protest. Workers of Pipe Mill Plant, Oriz Ghadir Steel Complex, Mehshar’s Refinery, Abadan Petrochemical Company and Refinery, Hengham Petrochemical Company, Bushehr Petrochemical Company and South Paras Gas Condensate Field are all striking and protesting in solidarity with the protesters. However, the arrest of leaders has created difficulties.

Despite restrictions on the internet, the protests are not decreasing. People are still connected through various alternative sources. Yes, there are difficulties, but due to the contradictions of imperialism, there are also opportunities and many young people create links that spread videos and other messages. However, the government is attacking again and again. Various trade unions have given strike calls and successful work stoppages have occurred, but still the general problem of this revolution is that of a collective leadership. A general strike is important, but it must last until the end of the mullah regime. This requires the formation of factory and workplace councils, along with the formation of defence committees. Without them, state repression is inevitable and it is not possible to compete.

LFI: Is it correct to say that everyone in the current fight wants to see the fall of the regime?

AR: The movement wants more than reform, it wants the end of the mullah regime. It is a powerful spirit that keeps the people active. Despite all the oppression, people are not ready to settle for anything less than the overthrow of the government. However, the oppression is very severe. And the protesters must be protected from the killer guards and other forces. The protesters resist such forces but this needs to be organised.

Everyone wants the end of this government but the lack of a national leadership means that there is no clear strategy and this is a dangerous situation. If the government falls, the reformists will try to present themselves as an alternative, even though they have little support at the moment. Then there are also the Pahlavi supporters. In such a situation, some popular support may also emerge, but this is not the alternative that people are fighting for. In our opinion, the demand for a Constituent Assembly is important, that can democratically unite workers through the formation of councils, and elections under their control are essential. The socialist programme is the only solution that can end the barbarism of the mullahs and also bring wider democracy. It opposes the capitalist system and imperialism, meaning that Iran’s resources can be used to improve the lives of the people instead of being subordinated to the interests of the ruling class.

LFI: What are the leading political forces in the opposition movement? Which class is leading the movement? What role does the working class play as a political force?

AR: This began as a "spontaneous" movement. Even before Mahsa Amini's murder, all the ingredients that gave rise to this movement were already there. It includes people from different walks of life, and various associations are supporting it. It is also in the Kurdish and Baloch areas and it draws in the devastated middle class. The one thing that unites them is opposition to the government.

The influence of the youth in this movement is very high and especially the female students are very active, despite all the oppression, violence and murder. Liberals hope for democracy, they want to reconnect with the world, are critical of the regional policies of the state and want to live a free life. It is not possible for them to accept life in chains. The reformist leadership is not dominant, but many of those who have hopes in reformism are active.

There is room for the Left and they are active, too. The trade unions are participating in the protests, there are strikes, but they need to be developed into a countrywide strike and the fall of the government. A socialist alternative movement has to be given because this system has no solution for the people of Iran. The possibility of the predominance of the counter-revolution in these circumstances cannot be completely ruled out.

LFI: How can working class women and the working class as a whole come not just to the fore of street fighting, but take the lead in the struggle for what comes after the regime? How can they become the champions for a socialist republic? Are there forces who try to make the incipient democratic revolution permanent?

AR: In spite of all the repression and violence, the mullahs are still unable to control the revolution. But it is important to remember that this situation cannot continue forever. At this time, there is a need for an indefinite general strike which will make it clear that real power in society lies with the working class and they can halt the system. The Left has little political influence on the movement, but there are many opportunities for them in this revolution. If they were only to tail the existing movement, the result could come to nothing because even if the mullahs' regime falls, power could pass to those forces (reformist, pro-Western, Pahlavi) who will do nothing for the workers and the poor of Iran and would not even bring full freedoms for women and democracy either.

We need a clear socialist alternative that calls for a Constituent Assembly and strives for a workers' government whose programme recognises the right of oppressed nations to self-determination – that alone can lead this movement to success. A revolutionary force is required in Iran that fights for the strategy of Permanent Revolution and believes that the end of the mullah regime and the struggle for democratic freedoms in Iran is linked to the liberation from imperialism and the end of capitalism. Such a force is in an early stage but it has the possibility to present its programme.

LFI: What would be the first things socialists would implement if they were in charge after bringing down the Mullah regime?

AR: Abolition of hijab and all other laws against women, complete democratic freedoms, right of self-determination for oppressed nations, complete separation of the state from religion and complete end of aid to religious institutions, end of regional intervention, and establishment of a planned economy so that the goal of the economy is not to reap profits for the bureaucracy and capitalist class but to use all resources for the improvement of the lives of workers and poor people. This is impossible in the existing state, hence the abolition of the existing state and the establishment of a workers' state, controlled by workers' councils, is necessary.