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Iran: The regime threatens to drown the revolution in blood

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For months, the Islamist regime has been trying to drown in blood the mass protests and uprisings that have shaken the country since the murder of Jina Mahsa Amini.

In September 2022, the movement swept across the country, assuming pre-revolutionary dimensions with hundreds of thousands on the streets and regional general strikes. Working class women were at the forefront of the movement, as were the oppressed nationalities, whose regions were at times completely paralysed by local mass strikes. The universities, too, became centres of resistance. Important sectors of the working class also played a role with mass work stoppages and calls for further strikes.

From the beginning, the slogan "Jin, Jiyan, Azadî" (Women, Life, Freedom) meant far more than the demand for full democratic and social rights for women and other oppressed, it was inseparably linked to the goal of overthrowing the mullahs' regime.

The outbreak of the revolution was itself the result of brutal repression by the theocratic dictatorship, its state apparatus and its thugs. The reactionary dress code served as a focus, symbolising an oppressive patriarchal system. Although its roots go back far before the mullahs' rule, it sums up that rule ideologically, repressively, even murderously.

At the same time, the deep economic crisis created the social background of the movement. Islamist capitalism not only denies its subjects, above all women and oppressed nationalities, any form of equality. It is also less and less able to ensure their survival, the reproduction of the exploited even to be exploited. Since 2018/19, the general inflation rate per year has been between 30 and 40%. By 2023, it is expected to exceed 40%. However, food price increases do not reflect this at all. Even according to official government figures, these were around 100% in 2022.


It is no wonder therefore that the regime has little room for manoeuvre to pacify the protests. And the economic problems will not diminish in 2023.

The regime relies above all on repression and ideological mobilisation, combined with minor concessions. Thus, the particularly hated morality police, who killed Jina Mahsa Amini, were withdrawn from the streets as a result of the protests. Some representatives of the regime even announced the dissolution of the units. Whether this will really be implemented, however, remains uncertain.

In any case, the regime, supported by the police, the ultra-reactionary repressive watchdogs, secret services and the surveillance apparatus, acted with extreme brutality. Since September 2022, at least 520 protesters have been killed and more than 19,000 arrested. For weeks, members of the opposition have been publicly tried, sentenced to death and executed. Even if individual protests were able to achieve postponements of some executions, there has been a noticeable strengthening of the regime in recent weeks.

Public trials and executions for blasphemy, in combination with "treason", fulfil two functions: On the one hand, they are intended to demonstrate the strength and unity of the regime, its state machinery and repressive apparatus, thereby strengthening the confidence of the reactionary supporters that the Islamist dictatorship certainly has. Doubting and vacillating elements in the elite or its periphery are given the clear message that it is not worth becoming "apostate".

On the other hand, repression is also meant to convince both the movement and its activists that, despite mass support against the regime, they cannot win and are faced with the alternative of death or surrender. High profile executions, such as that of the former deputy defence minister and British citizen Alireza Akbari, are intended to make it clear that no one is spared. That case also served to suggest that the opposition is actually bought and controlled by Western secret services.

Undoubtedly, there are such opposition politicians, undoubtedly pro-imperialist, bourgeois or even monarchist forces are trying to gain a foothold in the movement. But, all in all, it is a monstrous, reactionary lie, a slander of the millions of women, workers, students and oppressed nationalities in Kurdistan or Balochistan who risk their lives for their freedom.

The thousands imprisoned and hundreds murdered are heroic fighters whose only "crime" was to stand up against exploitation and oppression. In the staged trials and executions, it is not only courageous and determined individuals who are to be slaughtered, the revolutionary possibilities and hopes that became visible in the movement and gripped the masses are to be drowned in blood. The order that the mullahs want to re-establish is to be built on corpses.

Shifting the balance of power

The worst thing about the increasing repression and the barbaric executions, is that they express a real shift in the balance of power in favour of the regime. The threat of victory for the counter-revolution – even if it is temporary – is now very real, unless there is a fundamental change in the situation.

In view of this, two interrelated questions arise: 1. Why did this shift in the balance of power occur, even though millions wanted to overthrow the regime? 2. What lessons can be learned from this in order to be better prepared and successful in the face of a new onslaught?

Between September and November, the movement put the regime on the defensive politically. More and more sectors of society joined. But even though there were connections between individual social sectors, the universities, workplaces, cities and regions, no centralising structures were built that could unite and coordinate the movement.

General strike and arming

Such structures, councils or shoras, were absolutely necessary to concentrate the spontaneous impetus of the masses into a unified nationwide action against the regime – in short, into an indefinite general strike to overthrow it. Such a general strike should have been accompanied by the convening of regular mass meetings and the election of councils of action to coordinate and direct the struggle. At the same time, it would have required the establishment of its own defence units. Without self-defence units, without militias of the workers and popular masses, without winning over the ordinary soldiers of the army and the formation of soldiers' committees and councils, the centralised, armed power of the regime could not have been broken.

Such organisations, armed with such a policy, cannot just arise spontaneously, they have to be prepared politically and ideologically. Before it can be taken up by the masses there has to a political force that fights for this perspective and gives it a clear political goal.

There was no such force. Even if a general strike and councils had developed from the dynamics of the struggle, i.e. a dual power situation, this would not, by itself, have solved the entire problem.

What revolution?

A general strike would have raised the question: Who is to rule Iran, which social force, which class, should take power? The movement would also have been faced with the question of what kind of revolution would be necessary to achieve its democratic demands and the class contradictions they would generate. Should the movement be limited to a purely bourgeois goal, to the introduction of legal equality for women and parliamentary-democratic conditions? Or should it not rather go beyond democratic tasks, such as formal legal equality, and fight for material equality through social ownership of the key sectors of the economy, making the revolution permanent?

The experience of the Iranian revolution (and indeed all the major revolutions of the 20th and 21st centuries) shows that the democratic demands, in Iran, especially those for women's equality and freedom, are inextricably linked to the class question.

Real liberation is ultimately impossible for women and oppressed nationalities within the framework of capitalism in Iran. At best, their oppression might take on less repressive forms under another bourgeois form of rule or another elite, but even this is by no means certain.

The improvement of the condition of the masses – and especially of women and the oppressed nations – is impossible without addressing the profits, wealth, privileges and private property of the ruling class in Iran. Conversely, the working class itself can only emerge as the real leading force of a revolution if it combines the decisive social questions with that of its own liberation, the expropriation of capital and the establishment of a democratically planned economy. Otherwise, the proletariat, regardless of gender, will continue to be a class of wage slaves.

The clarification of this question is absolutely necessary, because within the opposition movement there are not only bourgeois democratic forces but also explicitly reactionary, monarchist forces as well as currents backed by democratic imperialism. Their programmes basically consist of replacing the current Islamist slave owners with new, bourgeois and pro-Western slave owners and, if necessary, in alliance with parts of the current regime.

A political force that consistently expresses the interests of the working class, on the other hand, must break with all oppressive classes and their parties. That means, first of all, that it must not limit its goals to purely democratic, purely bourgeois, ones.

Revolutionary Party

Such a perspective and a revolutionary programme, which combines democratic and social demands with socialist demands and culminates in the establishment of a workers' and peasants' government, will not emerge by itself. It requires a force that consciously fights for them, and for the organisations that can win them, in the working class, in universities and schools, among the youth, women and oppressed nationalities. That is the only way to halt the steady advance of the counter-revolution here and now - and those who fight the most tenaciously for such demands, learning the lessons not just of the last four months but of the last four decades, are those who can begin building that force, a revolutionary party. Only such a party will be able to lead the struggle under all conditions, operating underground when necessary as well as intervening in strikes, trade unions and, above all, mass movements in times of upsurge of struggles.