Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Robert Goldstein

Prospects Excellent for Iran’s Left


First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 6, No. 35, September 23-29, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Is Iran’s revolution coming to an end? It is not.

Since last June, when President Abolhassan Bani Sadr was expelled from office and fled the country, signaling a government attack on the left, and especially since the latest assassinations of government officials, the bourgeois press has written about Iran’s revolution devouring its young. The press has proclaimed the collapse of the revolution, while assorted Trotskyites say “we told you so.” The Sparticist League, a Trotskyite sect, “predicted” the Iranian government backlash. The SL’s conclusion, that it was inevitable, is simple enough: this logic basically means the Iranian people should never have stood up to challenge the Shah and U.S. imperialism. All this, of course, is nonsense.

The increased activity and heightened tension over the last three months in Iran illustrates that, far from being over, the revolutionary situation is developing quite well. We are witnessing a rapid differentiation of all class and political forces, as all, without exception, go into motion. This highly charged situation holds great promise for the left – and for the People’s Mojahedeen in particular – to seize power and continue Iran’s revolution.

Government Instability

Over 200 government officials, leaders of the Islamic Republican Party and pro-government mullahs have been killed in the current armed struggle which began shortly after Bani Sadr and Mojahedeen leader Massoud Rajavi went underground and left for France. Included in the list are the founder and leader of the IRP and Chief Justice Ayatollah Beheshti, President Mohammed Rajai, Prime Minister Mohammed Bahonar, Police Chief Col. Houshang Dastgerti and Prosecutor General Jojatolislam Ali Quddousi. Some, such as the Ayatollah Beheshti, have died under somewhat mysterious circumstances (no one has taken credit for the bomb which blew him up and it is not clear who did it). Others, such as Rajai and Bahonar, were targets of what Rafavi said was the “legitimate resistance movement,” of which his organization is the majority.

To be sure, the deaths of the regime’s key leaders has hurt it immeasurably and will hasten its downfall. It has lost its most experienced leaders. Yet the IRP’s and the regime’s instability is caused by much more than the loss of these politicians’ lives. The IRP is isolated and unstable because it has repressed and executed hundreds and thousands of genuine progressives, leftists, revolutionaries and experts.

Narrow Scope Deadly

It takes more to lead a country than revolutionary fervor, much more. It takes among other things, an experienced core of leaders who, relying on the masses and mobilizing them, can steer an independent course for the country, build up its economy and raise the material and spiritual standard of living of the people. The IRP and the mullahs, originally having the following of a significant number of Iranians, were one component. But they were by no means the only component, and, by themselves, are totally incapable of running the country. With the icing of the progressive, nationalist and leftist forces, such as Bani Sadr and the Mojahedeen, the IRP sealed its fate. It iced out not only organizations and people with mass support, but also most of the skilled revolutionary and technical leaders in the country.

The Islamic Republican Party has a very, very narrow conception of the tasks of revolutionary reconstruction of the country. It basically consists of a “fight to the finish” against Iraq in their year-long war and demonstrations against the United States. Bani Sadr’s plan for economic reconstruction has been thrown overboard. According to the Multinational Monitor of January 1981, “Bani Sadr’s economic plans call for directing investments away from export-oriented and internationally dependent sectors. His model emphasizes the development of indigenous capital goods, machinery, spare parts and basic industries with incentives for investment outside the urban centers. Bani Sadr places priority on projects that yield internal linkages between sectors...

“None of Iran’s economic changes have taken place in a vacuum. Bani Sadr, having survived his first two turbulent years in government, seems now to be waning in influence. Islamic fundamentalists ... currently dominate Parliament and have institutionalized opposition to Bani Sadr’s economic programs.

“If the fundamentalists increase their power, Bani Sadr’s efforts at forging a more independent path for Iran may fall by the wayside.”

The accuracy of this prediction is to be seen in Iran today, as project after project aimed at economic self-sufficiency is called off, inflation and unemployment continue unabated and there are continued cuts in government services.

Demagogy and Danger of Slogans

Of course, many of these economic ills are inherited from imperialism, and the IRP cannot be wholly blamed for their existence. But it has no solutions to the problems at hand, while those who do have been persecuted. The IRP is limited to leading by slogans.

Jerry Tung, CWP General Secretary, wrote about the problems of leading by slogans in his recent book, The Socialist Road. “The masses,” he wrote, “who are not politically trained, are not (emphasis original) motivated by historical visions even though in the long term their actions are of such substance. The masses must be organized initially by issues and events that affect them and flow from their perceptions. Such perceptions are always spontaneous and thus often lack a clear focus. The purpose of revolutionary slogans and agitation is precisely to rally and focus these spontaneous perceptions. Slogans coined sharply and in a forward-looking manner can help to define the issue itself and rouse the masses to action. Slogans and agitation are indispensable to mobilizing the masses in millions. But because such slogans and agitation around these issues are transient, unfolding around the turning points of events, and generally focus on one issue at a time, they inherently lack the scope and comprehensiveness of putting the present into historical perspective ...

“One-sided emphasis on agitation and slogans has the danger of degenerating into demagogy. When an opportunist is betraying the working class and cannot possibly give reasons and perspective for his actions, he can just agitate or use inappropriate slogans to appeal to the masses’ emotions and spontaneous associations. Then this slogan turns into demagogy. [emphasis added]”

Collapse of Structures

The IRP, lacking the political scope and perspective to continue the revolution, has played with the Iranian people’s anti-U.S. imperialist feelings and manipulated them into a sport. The IRP has turned demagogic.

Bani Sadr spoke to a related point in an interview he gave journalists only a few days before Rajai and Bahonar were blown up. “If tonight five men were killed – Rajai, Bahonar, Rafsanjani, Ardebilli and Kiani – the Government would collapse,” he said. “It may be days, it may be months. There are no structures left, there are only a few persons who hold power together.”

Most of the bourgeois press picked up on this statement in an opportunist way, saying that Bani Sadr had a hit list. The press buried the real meaning of his statement, as well as ignoring the full content of his interview.

Bani Sadr did not speak of a hit list. Nor did he speak absolutely literally when he mentioned the prospects for the IRP-led government should there five men die. He did touch on the enormous task of rebuilding a country and the absolute inability of the IRP to do it. The IRP was not and is not capable of solving Iran’s political, economic, military, cultural, national and other problems systematically. Whatever organizational systems and structures that had been built up under Bani Sadr have been destroyed.

The military, for example, which Bani Sadr commanded, has been disorganized and demoralized. The IRP, instead of using the army, which was loyal to the revolution, to fight Iraq, substituted untrained, irregular units, thus hurting the war effort and sending casualty figures to heaven. And now the IRP blames this on Bani Sadr and exhorts the people to continue fighting a war which bleeds the country white. The IRP rejects any negotiations and has refused to look for a just, peaceful solution. (This is only one example of the IRP’s disorganizing opportunism. See WV Aug. 5-11, 1981).

Support Evaporating

With a line like this the IRP has produced nothing but misery for the masses and has alienated them, including the experts. Its inability to solve any of the pressing practical problems has led to an obvious governmental crisis, which neither Bani Sadr’s ouster nor the climate of political repression will solve. Through this fissure, the masses have burst forth. For over three years they have been aroused and keenly aware of politics. The government cannot lead them or positively channel it. Rather, it is blocking the masses and suppressing them.

The government is losing support. According to the Mojahedeen, 15 percent of the Iranian people support the IRP, while 20 percent support them. The other 65 percent passively oppose Khomeini, but, because of the political repression against the opposition, they are afraid to speak out.

This estimate is confirmed by the dwindling attendance at IRP called demonstrations and marches. Government and newspaper claims of one million participants in President Rajai’s and Prime Minister Bahonar’s funeral, but Bani Sadr disputed this figure. The square where the funeral was held, Bani Sadr said, only holds 100,000. Even if there were a million mourners, he continued, it was nothing compared to the millions and tens of millions who poured into the streets to overthrow the Shah. This shows, he concluded, that while the government still remains in power, it is rapidly losing the people’s support.

The American press has often ignored this fact, instead choosing to call the killings terrorist attacks. At the same time, monarchist activity has been closely monitored. The monarchists’ hijacking of an Iranian gunboat off the coast of Spain last month splashed the front pages. The Shah’s last prime minister, Shapour Bakhtiar, who now resides in Paris, has been quoted in the press. Both the monarchist dogs and Bakhtiar have been consulted about the resistance bombings, have been treated at least as equals of the Mojahedeen and have been included in the resistance.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Neither the monarchists led by ex-general Bahran Aryana nor Bakhtiar enjoy much following. The army had long ago been purged of pro-Shah elements, and the army is made up of revolutionary-minded rank and file soldiers. After nearly three decades under the bloody Shah’s boot, the Iranian people do not wish to have another shah. And because they have been extensively mobilized over the last several years, there is little chance that either could set foot on Iranian soil.

No doubt that the U.S. imperialists would like to install a new shah. But isolated in the world community and saddled with troubles at home, the U.S cannot back up its wish with force and so must stand on the sidelines in this battle. With their principal backers out of commission, the monarchists’ real limitations come out. Hijacking a boat is all they can do and even on this petty international crime, they get caught and meekly surrender. The extensive destabilization, while giving the monarchists room to carry out their fly-like activity, creates much more opportunity for the Iranian left.

The fight in Iran is essentially a two-sided fight. It is between the IRP and the people, as represented by the Mojahedeen/Bani Sadr alliance.

Alliance for Independent Iran

The Mojahedeen/Bani Sadr alliance is a fighting alliance against the government’s political repression and for a national, progressive and democratic Iran. “The Shah was a symbol of physical power, but he was a dictator and he fell,” said Rajavi. “Khomeini is the symbol of spiritual power, but he too is a dictator and he is falling. If I wanted to govern this country and ignored these recent examples, then, even with the physical power of the Shah and the spiritual power of Khomeini, I would be defeated.”

The alliance is getting stronger and growing despite the bourgeois press’ speculation on differences between the two forces. It was not for nothing that when Bani Sadr circulated a letter in Tehran stating he was still the legal President, he name Massoud Rajavi as his Prime Minister. What is more, Rajavi has repeatedly said that any progressive government must include all “who agree with our line of independence and freedom, except the allies of the Shah and Khomeini.”

Bani Sadr, the most prominent, and perhaps the most popular representative of the resistance, explained the alliance this way: “In a struggle everyone is beholden to others. I am beholden to the Mojahedeen. They are beholden to me. And all of us are beholden to the martyrs who have been executed. I was elected President by the people and the people have not retracted their confidence. Thus I am in a position to represent all of the different fronts of opposition that are in favor of liberty and independence.”

The government’s reign of terror against the Mojahedeen has been largely unsuccessful, though bloody. Nearly 1,000 revolutionaries from the Mojahedeen and other progressive forces have been executed. Over 12,000 political prisoners have been taken. Bani Sadr estimates that close to 100 people a day are executed, many times more than the casualties imposed by the war with Iraq. Still, this has not quelled the resistance.

Armed struggle against the government is a daily fact. The armed struggle, led by the Mojahedeen, has developed to the point of waging eight-hour battles in the streets of Tehran. Firefights with the government’s so-called Revolutionary Guards have erupted in over 100 cities all across the country, from the Persian Gulf to the Soviet border. In addition, the Iranian student movement abroad, which played such a crucial role in overthrowing the Shah, has expressed its support for the Mojahedeen and Bani Sadr with takeovers of the Iranian Embassies in Norway and Britain.

The loss of 1,000 revolutionaries is a great loss indeed, but this has made hardly a dent in the resistance. The People’s Mojahedeen has been tested in the revolution which overthrew the hated Shah, having played a leading role in the armed struggle. Over the last 2 and a half years of legality and semi-legality, it has built up a large, capable core of leadership and an extensive membership. For 17 years the Mojahedeen has waged a struggle for the people and it is deeply rooted. The government’s campaign of terror cannot change this fact.

Victory in Sight

Through their counterattack the Mojahedeen is achieving its goal of “breaking the barrier of terror” that keeps many from openly opposing the regime. The Ayatollah Khomeini is beginning to sense the futility of the fight against the left. He can see that the objective result of the terror is to harden his opponents, strengthen their mass base and whittle away at the government’s.

That is why, although Khomeini vowed to avenge the deaths of Rajai and Bahonar, he admonished officials to be more moderate. “Do not act tougher toward prisoners or captives, or arrest people who, God forbid, are innocent,” he warned the bloodthirsty leadership of the IRP. Khomeini sees the handwriting. He knows the IRP cannot rule by terror alone and that it cannot continue forever. He wants to soften up and preserve the present government.

But the IRP cannot keep its dictatorship without the terror. George Ball, one of the U.S. bourgeoisie’s theoreticians, summing up his master’s prospects in Iran, wrote, “Unless the mullahs continue their relentless repression [which Khomeini says they cannot] long and brutally enough to break the will of a whole nation [which will not happen given the strength of the masses], the people will at some point replace them with a nationalistic regime either of the left (under the leadership of the Mojahedeen Khalq) or of the right (under military domination). Of these two, a leftist regime seems more likely.”

So clear is the situation that even the U.S. imperialists can see the future, however unpleasant it is to them. The IRP-led government is destabilized, isolated from the people by its own policies.

The left, led by Bani Sadr and the Mojahedeen is in excellent position to topple the IRP and establish a truly independent, democratic Iran. After a recent, victorious battle over the government, the People’s Mojahedeen issued a statement saying the struggle had “entered a new phase. The Mojahedeen now show with demonstrations that they are able to overthrow the bloodthirsty Khomeini Government.”