Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Party

What’s at Stake? Tug of War Between Militants and Iranian Government

First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 5, No. 11, March 29, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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On March 11, the United Nations commission to investigate the U.S. and former Shah of Iran’s crimes left Teheran. They had waited a week and still couldn’t meet with all the U.S. embassy hostages.

That week saw a tug of war between the Iranian government and the militants holding the U.S. embassy. The militants insisted that the commission could only meet with those 13 hostages who are tied in with the commission’s investigation, and not all the hostages. When pressured by the government, the militants threatened to dump the prisoners in the government’s lap. Seizing the chance to undercut the militants’ power, the government countered with an ultimatum: let the UN commission meet with all the hostages or turn them over to the Iranian Foreign Ministry. The militants rejected both alternatives and eventually got the support of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic Party (mainly made up of Muslim clergy forces).

What’s At Stake

To understand what’s at stake, this week-long battle must be seen in light of the international and domestic situation facing independent Iran today. For the past three months the Iranian people have won one victory after another in their fight against military threats, economic sanctions and all kinds of chauvinist lies from the U.S. government. The U.S. was finally forced to agree to Iran’s demand that the U.S.’s and the Shah’s crimes be investigated. Meanwhile, with the Soviet Union’s ruthless invasion of Afghanistan and the build-up of Soviet troops along Iran’s border, the danger of a Soviet attack on Iran is especially sharp. The Iranian government correctly saw the need to shift tactics so that the country would not have to take on both superpowers, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., at the same time. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Bani Sadr presented three conditions for the release of the hostages. In addition, there are big changes going on inside Iran as different class forces and their representatives struggle for power.

Militants Made Mistake Rejecting Commission’s Request

The militants made a mistake when they refused to let the UN commission see all the hostages. Such a meeting would have been a powerful way to smash the lies pushed by the U.S. government that the hostages are being “abused” and “mistreated”. It would have left the U.S. with no grounds to appeal to the World Court, as it is doing now to isolate Iran from international support. The militants weakened the Iranian people’s ability to use the commission to create world public opinion against the U.S. government.

In the militants’ view the UN commission had no right to ask to see all the hostages since its purpose was to investigate the U.S. and Shah’s crimes and not the hostages. Behind their distrust of the commission’s motives, the militants question U.S. intentions even more.

The Carter administration has never been serious about the investigation–it could drag out all the dirty laundry of U.S. imperialism in Iran. All the time tire UN commission was in Teheran the U.S. government never once admitted any of its crimes against the Iranian people. Carter either evaded questions about U.S. guilt or ridiculed them. When asked about the CIA coup in 1953 which put the Shah in power against the will of the Iranian people, Carter laughed it off as “ancient history” and refused to judge it right or wrong. He called the Iranian people’s hatred toward the U.S., built up through years of imperialist murder and robbery, a “misunderstanding”. The arrogance of the U.S. fueled the militants’ suspicion that, by agreeing to the UN investigation, the U.S. meant only to trick the Iranian people into releasing the hostages. There was even talk that the commission was part of a U.S. plot.

But gut hatred of U.S. imperialism, stand alone–no matter how precious and justified–is no substitute for clear political strategy and sharp tactics. Of course, the Iranian government compromised by agreeing to the UN commission’s request to meet with all the hostages. But the real political question facing the country today is–in what way can Iran continue to defend itself against U.S. imperialism (by shifting gears) and prepare for the danger of Soviet aggression, without getting jammed in a direct confrontation with both superpowers at the same time.

We don’t know who the militants are. But according to Iranian President Bani Sadr (in an interview with Le Monde), he said that the Tudeh Party has influence among the militants. If true, this would help explain the militants’ mistake. The revisionist Tudeh Party is a notorious agent of the Soviet imperialists. They ride on people’s hatred toward the U.S. in order to draw attention away from the growing danger of Soviet attack. It is in the interest of the Tudeh Party and their imperialist masters to whip up rumors that the UN commission is part of a U.S. plot. Preventing the commission from meeting with the hostages blocks the Iranian government from a momentary tactical disengagement with the U.S. and preparation for the Soviet threat.

Militants Correctly Refuse To Hand Over Hostages And End Occupation

After the week of struggle, the Bani Sadr government denounced the militants and called for an end to the “government within a government”. He wanted to end the occupation of the U.S. embassy and take over the hostages. The militants refused. On this question–whether to turn over the hostages and end the occupation –the militants were correct. The Islamic Republic Party supported them, saying it was best that the militants keep the hostages.

Soviet Union: A Real Danger Or A Child’s Nightmare?

In the U.S., the Trotskyite “Revolutionary Communist” Party (“RC”P) and centrists like the Guardian and others have been running a metaphysical line claiming that Khomeini is counter-revolutionary, and they are going against the Iranian revolution. This sinister line fronts for the Soviet social-imperialists and apologizes for its imperialist action. Recently the “RC”P called Bani Sadr a U.S. agent and criticized him but for the wrong reason. In the recent issue of their newspaper, Revolution, the “RC”P claims that Bani Sadr is “invoking the Soviet danger in Afghanistan and the need to get Iran settled down and deal with economic problems.” These Trots are saying that the Soviet imperialist threat is a bogeyman to scare children and not a cold hard fact.

What is so dangerous about this counter-revolutionary line of the “RC”P, Guardian and Trots is that there is a counterpart in Iran, namely the Fedayeens. Fedayeens have the same two worlds line which, under the pretext of fighting against U.S. imperialism runs interference for Soviet social-imperialism against Iran.

The revisionists, Trots and centrists would have the Iranian people and government ignore the three Soviet divisions now massed on Iran’s western border and the fact that the U.S.S.R. is sending arms into Iran backing the leadership of the Kurdish Democratic Party to wage a civil war against the government. If the “RC”P wasn’t so scared of the Soviet Bear they would point out how the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was inevitable due to the U.S.S.R.’s imperialist nature. It is forced to grab out for markets, raw materials and spheres of influence all around the world.

Down-playing the viciousness of the Soviet Union at this time is treacherous to the Iranian revolution because the Iranian people are relatively clear about U.S. imperialism but not as clear about the Soviet social-imperialists (socialism in words, imperialism in deeds). And within the Iranian government too there is confusion.

For example, right after the Shah got kicked out, the Iranian ambassador in Moscow praised the U.S.S.R. to the skies and wanted to expand and develop more economic and cultural relations between the two countries. The first group of agricultural trainees were sent to the Soviet Union. These actions in themselves aren’t wrong, we uphold the right of third world countries to use any contradiction between the two superpowers to safeguard their political and economic independence – as long as the Iranian government is clear about the need to rely mainly on its people and not the Soviets. But in addition, the U.S. has been blamed for instigating all foreign interference along Iran’s borders and other tension within the country, while the Soviets have been left off the hook (Iran Inform, number 10, September 1979). And, when the Non-Aligned Movement Conference voted last September on whether to support the legitimate Kampuchean government of Pol Pot or support the Vietnamese puppet government back by the Soviet Union Iran abstained.

Relationship Between Centralized United Front Government and Worker Peasant Rule

But if the Soviet danger is real then why would it have been wrong for the militants to turn the hostages over to the government? Doesn’t this tie the government’s hands in shifting tactics, a “government within a government?”

Both President Bani Sadr and Foreign Minister Ghotbzadeh represent the Iranian national bourgeoisie, and the militants and the Iranian people cannot rely solely on them not to waver under heavy U.S. pressure. By keeping the hostages the militants can check on the government.

Today in Iran there is a struggle to maintain the correct relationship between strengthening the government’s authority so it can effectively fight both superpowers on the one hand, and strengthening the masses’ involvement and power in governing the country. It is an indispensable struggle for a national democratic government representing the interest of workers and peasants. It’s a struggle between the hegemony of the national bourgeoisie or the United Front government of workers, peasants and national bourgeoisie. A United Front government of national democracy is a coalition government representing the interest of workers, peasants and the national bourgeoisie against the imperialists. It is a unity of opposites – a transitional form which could still serve to consolidate or weaken the Iranian revolution. At any time, its action must be unified against imperialism, in that sense centralization of the government against imperialism is necessary. But the danger is that the national bourgeoisie will also use this opportunity to consolidate its class interest which will in the long run weaken the Iranian revolution. It’s a life and death struggle to continue the revolution for independence, democracy and socialism.

Khomeini has moved to boost President Bani Sadr’s authority by naming him as head of the Revolutionary Council as well as making him Commander in Chief of the armed forces. He order Bani Sadr to reorganize the Iranian Army which had disintegrated during and after the uprising against the Shah. Centralizing power with the government so it can consolidate the gains of the revolution (for example, establishing a self-reliant economy) and fight the superpowers more effectively is a good thing. But if centralization is pushed too far so that it suppresses and restricts the masses’ participation and the freedom of genuine communist to organize, then it actually weakens the battle against the imperialists and continuing the Iranian revolution.

On the other hand, the Iranian masses have some power in some local areas through worker, peasant, and student councils. These give the people a say in the direction of their country, unleashes their revolutionary enthusiasm and trains them to lead. It allows them to supervise the government. The Iranian people, genuine communists in particular, should fight for the Revolutionary Council and the government to allow and expand mass and communist participation.

Ayatollah Khomeini recently announced that what to do with the U.S. hostages will be decided by the newly-elected Iranian Parliament. Communists and the masses should use Parliament as another forum to express their views and check on the government.

Iranian Communists Must Walk Tightrope of Unity and Struggle

The situation in Iran today is that the national bourgeoisie, represented by people like Bani Sadr, and the petty bourgeoisie, represented by the Muslim clergy in the main, have state power. They have the biggest networks to organize and mobilize the masses, and Marxist-Leninists must unite with them to fight the imperialists, especially since there is yet no Marxist-Leninist Party in Iran that has deep roots among the masses and a wide circle of friends around, them. At the same time, Marxist-Leninists must maintain their independence and initiative, supervise the national bourgeoisie and safeguard the long-term interest of the people.

Iranian Marxist-Leninists must walk a tightrope, on the one hand supporting the national bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie fighting both superpowers, and on the other hand battling for the freedom to do open communist work and to broaden and deepen their influence among the people. This is totally incomprehensible to the revisionists. Trots, and centrists, such as the Fedayeen, “RC”P and the Guardian types because they see the road of socialism as a straight line without the twists and turns of real class struggle in the real world of imperialism.

The tidal wave-like revolutionary conditions in Iran today are the best for a genuine Communist Party to develop and grow. There is more freedom of action than ever before – Marxist-Leninist bookstores and bookstands are springing up everywhere, and communists can now participate in elections and openly campaign as communists. The Iranian people are involved in politics as never before and are more politically mature, a good condition for communists to win them over. In the final analysis it will be the communists’ ability to lead and mobilize the Iranian people to continue the revolution for worker and peasant rule, that will decide whether Iran can remain politically independent and build an independent economy.