Mansoor Hekmat 1996

Federalism is a Reactionary Slogan

Interview with “International”


Translated: by Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya;
First published: in June 1996 in “International” No. 21 in Persian.


Question: A Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI) declaration states that the slogan of federalism proposed by some political parties is not in any way indicative of the existence of such a demand amongst people. In such a case, why was it necessary to issue this declaration?

Mansoor Hekmat: Not only does the slogan for federalism not have any place in people’s minds and lives but ethnic identity and ethnocentrism also have no place amongst millions of people living in Iran. Unfortunately, however, this is not enough to immunise people against the tragedies and catastrophes that ethnocentrism and ethnocentrists can create. Look around the world and review the developments of the last two or three decades. What basis did clerical government and religious rule have in Iran in the twentieth century? Apparently, none. These were people who had dealt with this issue eighty years earlier. Mullahs were a disgraced parasitic segment and the subject of people’s ridicule in cities and villages. Two generations before us, girls went to school unveiled. Music and cinema were an inherent part of people’s lives. Despite this, however, religious insanity and ignorance and Islamic beasts rule in that society today. Yugoslavia was a modern, industrial, and by any contemporary standards, civilised society. Yugoslavs say that before these events, they did not remember their ethnicity and nationality. They still don’t believe that this happened and don’t know how it happened.

Since ethnicity and ethnocentrism don’t have strong roots and foundations in Iranian society and the demand for federalism does not have any place amongst people, the main groups and movements in society don’t move in that direction. The question is, however, how immune is society to ethnocentric provocation and how prepared is it beforehand to defend itself in the face of regressive and reactionary ethnocentrism’s future assault? Nationalism and ethnocentrism are like viruses that exist in a hibernated state, become active under specific circumstances, and even sometimes cause epidemics. In contemporary Iranian society, nationalism and ethnocentrism are not a widespread political-cultural ailment, however, it has neither been uprooted nor is society immunised against it. The existence of these federalists and a backward bunch that have already, with utmost shamelessness and idiocy, started issuing ethnic identity cards for the people of Iran attests that this virus has not been uprooted yet and can, particularly in a changing and turbulent political situation, bring many calamities. This declaration has been issued to create this preparedness and immunity in society. Furthermore, it is a clear announcement to the nationalists and ethnocentrists and the half-witted intellectuals surrounding them that worker-communism will resolutely stand up to this regressiveness and disgrace these inhuman and anti-worker tendencies and groups. They cannot enslave and suppress people for twenty years with religion and then another twenty years with ethnicity and nationalism. We will not allow it.

Question: The WPI declaration directly relates the advent of the slogan for federalism to the Kurdish question. Could you explain this further?

Mansoor Hekmat: As I have said, labelling people along nationality and ethnicity, let alone along ethnic or national conflicts between various segments of society, is not a persistent, widespread, or all encompassing phenomenon in the country. Clearly, in the backward folklore of ethnic groups (any ethnic group), there is an ethnic egotism, chauvinism and xenophobia, etc. This is true in all countries, even in the most homogeneous ‘nations’. Evidently, as long as capital and capitalism exists, the production of divisions amongst people will remain. Iran, too, is not an exception. But any observer who does not have an axe to grind will agree that Iranian society is not a society crippled with ethnic and nationalist conflict and intolerance for which some pundit need come up with the federalist antidote.

When you pay attention, you see that recently, this subject has been raised directly regarding the Kurdish question and the dealings and negotiations between the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the nationalist opposition that are, according to the KDPI, due to take over the central government of tomorrow. The whole concern of the KDPI is to avoid being labelled secessionist, especially since it knows the brutal capacity of Iranian expansionist nationalists and the crimes they are willing to commit under the pretext of defending ‘territorial integrity’. Consequently, the KDPI itself has come in the lead of defending ‘territorial integrity’. In an interview, when Mr. Mullah Abdullah Hassanzadeh, the General Secretary of the KDPI, is asked about the Worker-communist Party of Iran position (recognition of Kurdistan’s right to separate; holding a referendum to determine people’s votes over secession or remaining within the framework of Iran as citizens with equal rights), he says: ‘No, we are not secessionists’. In order to lay the next central government’s fears at rest, he draws a very clear line with us. The KDPI wants autonomy and has concluded that it would be better to extend its demand to the entire country by presenting a formula that will not leave Kurdish nationalism alone vis--vis the nationalist central government. The federalism formula helps the KDPI to ask for autonomy without Kurdistan becoming an exception. Federalism means giving autonomy to ‘all nations in Iran’, including the Kurdish nation led by the KDPI. It doesn’t concern them that the rest of the people of Iran, including a large segment in Kurdistan itself, do not necessarily define themselves with ethnic labels, such as Fars, Lor, Gilak, Afghan, Kurd, Arab, Baluch, and Turk.

On the other side of this reactionary wheeling and dealing stands the Iranian nationalist groups which see themselves faced with the Kurdish question as one of the main obstacles to establishing their future rule. They see in the slogan of federalism a window of opportunity to sidestep the Kurdish question, bypass the people’s votes and wheel and deal with the KPDI.

The source of the debate on federalism is the opportunist calculations of several political parties regarding the Kurdish question. This in itself is not very worrying and not difficult to respond to with persistent communist and anti-nationalist publicity. Next to the main participants of this debate who are pursuing their material interests, however, we find, as usual, a group of people who because of their honourable journalistic or intellectual duties or their organisational needs, must say something according to the fad of the day and without any serious contemplation. Attesting to the bitter fate of the people of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, they are the most dangerous elements in such a situation. It is truly unbelievable that someone sees his child playing outside with the next-door neighbours’ children from his window, then sighs, takes his pen, and foolishly divides the people of a 60 million populated country into 9 nationalities, 13 ethnic groups and 5 language groups and prescribes that they must divide cities and localities between them according to his chart and stand face to face against each other. If these foolish thoughts didn’t have such bloody consequences, perhaps they would even be amusing for their listeners. They are, however, consciously or unconsciously paving the way for tomorrow’s ethnic cleansing and mass executions. They are conspiring against the lives of those children playing outside the window. This is where the sensitivity of the issue lies.

This is not the world of 30 years ago. The information and electronic revolution and the appearance of worldwide media have turned lackey journalism and the engineering of opinion into a determining factor in the power struggle and political development of various countries. Even the most foolish and far fetched political tendencies and social prescriptions, if in the interests of a section of the ruling class in a broader class and international framework, will be propped up when needed and imposed on people’s perceptions. The question goes far beyond the petty calculations of the KDPI and remainders of nationalist, republican or monarchist parties. They are pawns. We must make the entire game impossible.

I must add that as far as the Kurdish question is concerned, it is the very people of Kurdistan themselves who must decide about secession or remaining within the framework of Iran as citizens with equal rights in a free referendum. Only this decision, whatever it will be, is legitimate and principled. The Kurdish question is not about the share of the KDPI and other autonomy-seeking parties in the power structure and handing ‘Kurdish rule’ to them over people’s heads. Any wheeling and dealings and negotiations by parties over Kurdistan have no legitimacy.

Question: Can it be said that this slogan is characteristics of the political parties and groups proposing it and must they be judged accordingly? Does this declaration change the WPI’s relationship and position towards the parties and groups which advocate federalism?

Mansoor Hekmat: In my opinion, parties can be judged based on this slogan at the theoretical level. Just as being religious, national chauvinist, monarchist or opposing the equality of men and women is enough to call a group reactionary within the context of Iran’s contemporary political history, in the same way, advocating the issuance of ethnic identity cards and the establishment of a government based on nationality and ethnicity is enough to call a group reactionary. If there is a question, it is whether the depths of the filth of the federalism slogan and its inhuman, anti-social and anti-worker character have been extensively recognised or not. Perhaps, not yet. Initially, for a period, this makes it necessary to strive to remove this formula from the programme and publicity of opposition parties. It is clear that from now on, any organisation that consciously and persistently defends federalism or the ethnic organisation of society must be considered reactionary.

Question: What tasks has this declaration put forth for WPI activists? What must be done vis--vis groups proposing federalism?

Mansoor Hekmat: Clearly, it is not possible nor is it necessary to list the activities here. The crux of the matter is that we will strongly and persistently make the real meaning of this slogan clear for people. The parties which advocate this slogan must feel the full force of our criticism wherever they go. We must disgrace ethnic and national politics and philosophy in the same way that religious philosophy and politics has been disgraced and become ostracized today. We must have, if not all of the working people, then at least a more active and dynamic section of the working class in Iran which is so sensitive to and consciously opposed to reactionary nationalism and ethnocentrism (the federalism slogan is only a fancy version of it) to the extent that no force can stop the advance of the worker and worker-communism by creating ethnic conflicts and atrocities and bringing about a scenario like what we witnessed in Yugoslavia. Our publicity and actions must make the emergence of indigenous Tudjmans, Karadzics, Mladics and Milosevics impossible. In a word, we must heighten people’s attention and make all the ethnocentrists and their sponsors of tomorrow understand that they face an uncompromising worker-communism, which has no illusions.