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Iran: The Unfinished Revolution

Proletarian Revolution, vol. 1 no. 10, February 1979.

For over a year there has been growing intensive mass struggle against the monarchy of the Shah. The Shah came to power in the fifties by a coup organized by the CIA. This coup toppled a national bourgeois government of Mohammed Mossadegh’s National Front that was attempting to control Iran’s vast oil resources. The Shah’s fascist regime, no matter how much aid it received from US imperialism, no matter how widespread its terroristic methods against the people could not quell the growing resistance against it. The struggle first forced the resignation of the military government of General Azhari and forced the Shah to appoint a civilian government in a vain attempt to quell unrest. The Shah even appointed one of his opponents from the National Front prime minister. But the government of Shahpur Bakhtiar had no real support outside the army and US imperialism and even this support disappeared. Bakhtiar and his US masters even arranged for the Shah to leave the country but the struggle pressed on. This cosmetic face lift of the Shah’s regime did nothing to deceive the Iranian people.

The Bakhtiar government fell and has been replaced by a provisional government of Mehdi Bazargan, a close colleague of Bakhtiar in the National Front. Bazargan was the head of the Iranian national oil company in the Mossadegh government. Bazargan was appointed prime minister by the self appointed leader of the revolution, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini is one of six Ayatollahs of the Shiite sect of Moslems. This is a minority sect in the Islam but it is in a majority among Iran’s Moslems. Khomeini represents a current among the Shiites that has rejected the “constitutional monarchy” since its formation in 1906. This current has called for the formulation of an “Islamic Republic” this a theocracy based on Koranic law.

Khomeini had been in exile for 15 years and has persistently called for the overthrow of the Shah’s regime. Khomeini has taken advantage of the rebellion against imperialist domination of Iran to put forward the position that the source of Iran’s ills is “western civilization” and it should be driven out of Iran and replaced by an Islamic republic that bases itself on a medieval feudalist conception of society. Khomeini is part of a trend in the Moslem world. “Pan-Islamism” that sees the solution to the domination of imperialism as turning the pages of history back the dark ages of Islamic culture.

On this basis Khomeini has gained wide support, particularly among the petty bourgeoisie as a great “anti-imperialist” and has become a symbol of the struggle to overthrow the Shah’s regime. After the Shah fled the country Khomeini announced his intention to return and form an Islamic republic. At first the military prevented his return by closing down Iran’s airports, but there were massive demonstrations demanding Khomeini’s return and growing support for him in the military.

The military and Bakhtiar feared that refusing to let Khomeini return would result in open civil war, in which the cohesiveness of the military could not be counted on. Furthermore, they apparently hoped that a deal could be worked out with Khomeini, because on his return Bakhtiar proposed forming a government of “national unity” with Khomeini. Bakhtiar was counting on the more “moderate” Ayatollah’s persuading Khomeini to make a deal.

Khomeini, however, refused to make a deal with Bakhtiar and instead made a deal with the National Front and appointed Bazargan to form a provisional government that pressed for the Bakhtiar government to resign. Shortly after Khomeini’s return he was visited by representatives of the National Front and a deal was made. The National Front had previously expelled Bakhtiar for accepting the Shah’s appointment. The deal made between Khomeini and the National Front was not to carry out an armed revolution against the Bakhtiar government or against the Shah’s regime. The plan was to use growing mass pressure to get Bakhtiar to resign and join the provisional government and in this way achieve a “peaceful” transition of power. Part of the plan was to get as many of the Shah’s generals to agree with this as possible.

On the eve of the armed rebellion that toppled the Bakhtiar government Khomeini’s forces were exhorting the masses not to take up arms and Bazargan was taking an openly conciliatory stand to Bakhtiar in hopes of avoiding a revolution. In a speech at Tehran University on the eve of the uprising Bazargan called on Bakhtiar to join him and said Bakhtiar must be given credit for fulfilling his promises of returning freedom of the press, easing the curfew, lifting the ban on demonstrations and freeing political prisoners. Bazargan called on “my still dear Shahpur” to step down and join him so he can restore his reputation as a “patriot.”

A deal was apparently being worked out in negotiations between Bazargan and Bakhtiar and it was reported that Bakhtiar had been offered a major post in Bazargan’s government. The big stumbling bloc in negotiations appeared to be Bakhtiar’s insistence that what happened had to be within the framework of “constitutional process.” It was also reported that Khomeini was willing to follow the guidelines of the 1906 constitution.

It would seem the deal was made or on the verge of being made because in his speech Bazargan said “As soon as the transitional government starts everyone – workers, civil service employees and bazaar merchants – should immediately end their strike and return to their jobs.” So obviously Bazargan was not anticipating the necessity of using the general strike to back his “transitional government.” He was apparently confident that when it was announced Bakhtiar and the army would not oppose it.

The best laid plans of Khomeini and Bazargan to betray the revolution and unite with the Shah’s regime did not take place however because of the armed rebellion that occurred the next day. This did not occur as a result of Khomeini’s plans but in fact against them. Khomeini wanted a peaceful transition of power based on negotiation with Bakhtiar and the military. The masses, however, had different ideas.

On the night of Bazargan’s speech, technicians at the Pashan Tadeh Air Base in Tehran started chanting pro-Khomeini slogans after seeing footage of Khomeini’s return on television. The technicians had been causing disturbances and carrying out sabotage at air force bases for weeks. The technicians were joined in their demonstration by air cadets after the Imperial Guards called for and received reinforcements. The demonstration became more militant and they refused orders to return to their barracks. It is reported that a colonel of the guards ordered a sentry to fire at the demonstrators, he refused and was shot. The demonstrators then attacked the military police and the base’s arms depot. They seized arms and engaged in a pitched battle with the guards through the night. More Imperial Guard reinforcements arrived but also junior officers living off base arrived and joined the rebels. Then thousands of armed civilians began to pour into the base supporting the rebellion. By noon on February 10 the Imperial Guards withdrew by helicopter.

News of the fighting spread rapidly and the streets of Tehran became filled with thousands demanding “Death to Bakhtiar.” Barricades were set up on the major avenues in Tehran. Hundreds of technicians and cadets went towards the university exhorting people to take up arms, they also passed out truck loads of arms and gave instructions on how to use them. At this point there were thousands of people in the streets with weapons. It is also reported that thousands of armed “leftists” joined the rebellion.

So the armed masses forced Khomeini and Bazargan to give up plans to sell out the people’s struggle by making a deal with Bakhtiar and the military. Khomeini was forced by events to try and take the leadership of this rebellion.

Fearing further rebellion in the military and a widening of the armed struggle that would topple the military leadership, the generals called soldiers back to their barracks and announced that the military would be “neutral” in the conflict. Bakhtiar, at this point, had no other alternative but to resign. His offices were sacked and burned and his government disappeared as one official after another resigned. In the final days of its existence the Bakhtiar government was in reality little more than the telephone in his office.

It is the military that for years propped up the Shah’s regime and is the only force capable of crushing the struggle against the Shah and even though its “neutrality” was proclaimed it still needed to be crushed in order to ensure that all possibility of restoring the monarchy was destroyed. Khomeini, however, did not press for the overthrow of the military. Instead he came to its defense. On February 11, a statement of his was read on television. This statement read in part: “Now that victory is near, and that the armed forces have retreated and announced their lack of intervention in political affairs and also announced their support of the nation you should not burn their institutions Again I say to you that if the army stops and joins the people and the legal Islamic government, then we will recognize them as being of the people. We pray to God for your victory.” It is “god” that the Iranian people need to insure their victory, they could do well, however, without the likes of Khomeini who tried to betray the struggle by making a deal with the military both before and after the rebellion. On the eleventh Khomeini did call for people to arm themselves (they already had!) but he told them not to attack the military. Shortly after Khomeini was calling for people to lay down their arms and calling for soldiers who had deserted to return to their barracks. Why was Khomeini so confident that the military would not attempt a coup? The simple reason is Khomeini betrayed the Iranian people to make a reactionary deal with the military to get it to support his “Islamic republic.”

Why did the military not act to preserve the Shah’s regime? It was not just out of fear of civil war. In fact when the Shah left he instructed the military to provoke a civil war. He told them “by ordering the soldiers to shoot freely and kill, you could throw these two weighty forces against each other. A long civil war, thus created, will gain us enough time during which we could devise counter measures and we shall gradually proceed to share up our powers.”

Iran’s military was one of the best equipped most pampered armies in the world that was supposed to be staunchly loyal to the Shah. So the big surprise in Iran is that the military failed to act in a decisive way to try and save the Shah’s regime. It was the Shah’s instruction that they do this. Obviously the loyalty of the generals lay elsewhere than with the Shah.

The Shah was installed by US imperialism and his army was trained and equipped by the US. It was the US that pressured the Shah to replace the military government with a civilian government and that he should go on a “long vacation.” General Robert E. Huyser, deputy commander of US forces in Europe, was dispatched to Tehran for more than a month to convince the Iranian generals not to attempt a coup or to provoke a civil war. The US was clearly afraid of another Chile because they were not confident of the military’s ability to prevail in such a struggle. This would mean that the US would lose control over Iran’s oil and its military usefulness in its struggle against Russia. They also feared that the billions of dollars of military equipment the US had supplied Iran would fall into anti US hands. And US finance capital would lose billions they had loaned Iran.

The US also perceived it as being impossible to directly intervene militarily to save the military should it fail during a civil war. The US objective if the Bakhtiar government could not be saved then a deal must be made with Khomeini to insure the continued flow of oil and a continued existence of the army.

So Ramsey Clark, a famous American “liberal,” was sent to Khomeini in Paris as an “unofficial” representative of the US. The US ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, stated that Khomeini would be seen in the future as a “saint.”

The US let it be known that it was quite pleased with the appointment of Bazargan by Khomeini as Prime Minister of the “provisional Government.” Bazargan has said “I am a liaison man between modern culture and tradition. My task now is to prove that modernization is not alien to Islam.” In other words to prove that living with US imperialism is not incompatible with the “Islamic revolution.” Time magazine’s correspondent in Washington reported: “U.S. officials were quietly pleased by Khomeini’s choice of Bazargan as transitional Prime Minister. He is viewed by Washington as a patient, conciliatory figure who can get the oil fields pumping again and possibly harness the disparate opposition forces as well as the nervous pro-Shah elements within the military leadership. State department specialists who have contacted Bazargan find him amenable to the notion of friendly relations with the U.S.” And, of course, it is no surprise that a pro US element in the National Front was appointed Iran’s new Foreign Minister.

An alliance between Khomeini, the National Front and some of the military establishment was settled to form an “Islamic republic” with the blessing of US imperialism. Since this alliance was struck Khomeini has dropped his demands for the expulsion of the personnel of US imperialism that have played a key role in managing Iran’s economy. As American “technicians” were being evacuated Bazargan’s government said they regretted this and hoped that they would return soon. It was also announced that the US “technicians” would be brought back to restore Iran’s oil exports to the US and other western imperialist powers. Furthermore, the oil workers were ordered back to work to restore exports as soon as possible. This is, of course, exactly what the US wants. Its other concern, the preservation of the army, was taken care of by Bazargan calling on all deserters to return to their barracks under the supervision of mullahs. This has been combined with a threat that any civilian caught with arms would have their hands cut off. So in this way the “Islamic revolution” is insuring the preservation of the Shah’s army. Khomeini’s forces also came to the aid of the US embassy when it was attacked.

The US is returning the favors by recognizing the “provisional government.” and insuring the Generals and the CIA’s support for it. The US has even eone so far as to get Egypt and Morocco, the countries the Shah “vacationed” to recognize the Bazargan government.

The struggle in Iran has been painted as a great anti-imperialist struggle, and this it has been on the part of the Iranian proletariat, peasantry and progressive petty bourgeoisie. As to the National Front and Khomeini it is quite another story.

The National Front is a grouping of six bourgeois parties. Bazargan himself comes from the bazaar merchants who have played the key role in financing the National Front. Iran has a large bazaar economy that has been increasingly threatened by the penetration of imperialism, so it has been quite easy for them to ally with the likes of Khomeini in a “holy war” against “western civilization.” The National Front is also composed of many bourgeois who simply want a more profitable arrangement with US imperialism and democracy for the bourgeoisie. The National Front has always opposed the revolution and has sought to work out a “peaceful” solution to the bourgeoisie’s problems. For years they tried to get the Shah to agree to some kind of constitutional monarchy with bourgeois democracy. In the midst of a revolutionary crisis the National Front tried to insure there was no real revolution and instead a deal would be made that would allow the masses to take up arms because they knew that after the Shah they would be next. So in the midst of the armed uprising they forged a deal with the US.

As Lenin so correctly observed over sixty years ago:

For the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations always converts the slogan of national liberation into a means of deceiving the workers... in the realm of foreign politics it strives to enter into pacts with one of the rival imperialist powers for the purpose of its own predatory aims. (“The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination (Theses),” Jan. 1916, LOC 22:147)

He also said:

Frequently... the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations merely talks about national revolt, while in practice it enters into reactionary agreements with the bourgeoisie of the oppressing nations behind the backs, and against, its own people. (“A Caricature of Marxism and ’Imperialist Economism’”, 1916, LOC 23:59)

This is obviously the role of the bourgeoisie in Iran.

Khomeini, for his part, has managed to become the symbolic leader of the struggle against the Shah. He is not a force for social progress in Iran. He does not want to see the Shah’s dictatorship replaced by a bourgeois democracy. He wants to see an “Islamic Republic” that rules by floggings and amputations. Lenin has made it clear many times that communists do not support the struggle of reactionary classes against imperialism. In particular Lenin made it the task of the Communist International to struggle against “Pan-Islamism” The theses of the second congress of the Comintern state:

With regard to the more backward states and nations in which feudal or patriarchal and patriarchal-peasant relations predominate it is particularly important to bear in mind:... the need for struggle against the clergy and other influential reactionary and medieval elements in backward countries; third, the need to combat Pan-Islamism and similar trends which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the Khans, landlords, mullahs, etc. (Lenin On the National and Colonial Questions, FLP, pp. 26-7)

Of course, this is exactly what Khomeini is trying to do. He is using the anti-imperialist struggle to “strengthen the positions of the Khans, landlords, mullahs, etc.” Khomeini’s contradictions with the Shah do not represent anything progressive; he has simply become a parasite on the anti-imperialist struggle for his own reactionary interests. Engels, long ago, exposed what is at the basis of many of these struggles in the Islamic world.

A peculiar antithesis to this was the religious risings in the Mohammedan world, particularly in Africa. Islam is a religion adapted to Orientals, especially Arabs, i.e. on one hand to townsmen engaged in trade and industry, on the other to nomadic Bedouins. Therein lies, however, the embryo of a periodically recurring collision. The towns people grow rich, luxurious and lax in the observation of the “law”. The Bedouins, poor and hence of strict morals, contemplate with envy and covetousness these riches and pleasures. Then they unite under a prophet, a Mahdi, to chastise the apostates and restore the observation of the ritual and the true faith and to appropriate in recompense the treasures of the renegades. In a hundred years they are naturally in the same position as the renegades were: a new purge of the faith is required, a new Mahdi arises and the game starts again from the beginning. That is what happened from the conquest campaigns of the African Almoravids and Almohads in Spain to the last Mahdi of Khartoum who so successfully thwarted the English. It happened in the same way or similarly with the risings in Persia and other Mohammedan countries. All these movements are clothed in religion but they have their source in economic causes; and yet, even when they are victorious, they allow the old economic conditions to persist untouched. So the old situation remains unchanged and the collision recurs periodically. In the popular risings of the Christian West, on the contrary, the religious disguise is only a flag and a mask for attacks on an economic order which is becoming antiquated. This is finally overthrown, a new one arises and the world progresses. (Engels, “On the History of Early Christianity,” in Marx and Engels On Religion, Progress, p. 276)

Khomeini has little in common with even bourgeois revolutionaries in backward countries in the last century. In reality he has more in common with the likes of Salazar. Just as Salazar set out to remould Portugal along the lines set out in the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum, so Khomeini hopes to organize Iran on the basis of the teachings of the Koran.

It is vivid testimony to the revisionist degeneration in the world that so many so-called “leftist” forces in the world support and unite with Khomeini. The Soviet revisionist Tudeh party in Iran supports Khomeini. Noureddin Kianiouri, the new leader of Tudeh (based in East Berlin), said the Ayatollah “for the last 20 years has fought the Shah and imperialism in all its forms.” This is part of the Soviet Union’s attempt throughout the Arab world to ally with the reactionary forces of Pan-Islamism. The Tudeh party has worked closely with Khomeini trying to force oil and other workers back to work.

Khomeini has used a tactical alliance with “leftists” in order to achieve his reactionary aims. But he never planned on a real revolution. Even during the armed uprising mullahs were pleading in the streets that it was not time for armed revolution. Khomeini sound trucks called for demonstrators to go home. What reactionaries always fear is that arms will fall into the hands of the people. If Khomeini is so confident that he has the real support of the people why is he so paranoid of the people having arms? Why is he more and more relying on the Shah’s army? It is no coincidence that all the opportunists are just as afraid of the people armed as Khomeini and that’s why they support his reactionary government. As Lenin said:

All bourgeois politicians in all bourgeois revolutions ’fed’ the people and fooled the workers with promises. Our is a bourgeois revolution, therefore, the workers must support the bourgeoisie, say the Potresovs, Gvozdyovs and Chkheidzes, as Plekhanov said, yesterday. Ours is a bourgeois revolution, we Marxists say, therefore the workers must open the eyes of the people to the deception practised by the bourgeois politicians, teach them to put no faith in words, to depend entirely on their own strength, their own organization, their own unity, and their own weapons. (“Letters from Afar.” LCW 23:306)

Khomeini is so afraid of an armed proletariat and peasantry that he has proclaimed that “satanic elements who are worse than the Shah are still trying to create problems. I won’t tolerate anyone who is anti-Islamic. We will crush them.”

But crush them is what Khomeini is afraid to do because they are armed. Khomeini is afraid to expose himself by calling in the Shah’s army to attempt to crush the very people who toppled the Bakhtiar government. He is hoping to trick people into giving up their arms through demagogy about the “revolution.”

Khomeini is counting on opportunist groups who call themselves “Marxist-Leninist” to deceive the proletariat into disarming itself and accepting Khomeini’s reactionary Islamic republic. Khomeini has said “If the united leadership is not accepted by all groups, I shall regard this as an uprising against the Islamic revolution, and I warn these bandits and unlawful elements that we were able to destroy the Shah and his evil regime, and we are strong enough to deal with them.”

Any group that accepts Khomeini’s leadership and his government is a traitor to the proletarian revolution.

As Lenin said in 1917:

He who says that the workers must support the new government in the interests of the struggle against tsarist reaction...is a traitor to the workers, a traitor to the cause of the proletariat, to the cause of peace and freedom. For actually, precisely this new government is already bound hand and foot by imperialist capital, by the imperialist policy of war and plunder, has already begun to strike bargain (without consulting the people!)(Ibid., p. 305)

As Lenin said about Russia in 1917 and it is true about Iran today: “the only guarantee of freedom and of complete destruction of tsarism lies in arming the proletariat.” (Ibid.)

Khomeini and his “Islamic revolution” must be swept into garbage can of history and the Iranian proletariat and peasantry must march on to final victory.

Death to Khomeini!

Long Live the Iranian Revolution!