In October 2006, Action Iran, Iran Solidarity and the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII UK) merged to form a single organisation, called Campaign Iran. For Iranian socialists, inside and outside the country, neither the three components nor the new merged organisation address the essential issues concerning the plight of the Iranian people at a time when the threat of some form of imperialist intervention must be taken seriously. The accusation of appeasing a reactionary regime is echoed by many left activists in Iran.
Action Iran campaigned against “any form of military intervention or sanctions” and called for “a non-interventionist, non-military dialogue with Iran”, while Iran Solidarity aimed to expose “the war-mongering motives of the United States of America”. CASMII UK called for “immediate negotiations … without any preconditions”.
Totally missing form their material - as it is from Campaign Iran’s statements - is any criticism of the islamic republic. Nor is there any mention of the rising struggles of Iranian workers fighting the neoliberal economic policies of the shia regime; of the demonstrations of Iranian women against misogynist laws and their daily battles against the forced wearing of the veil; of the radicalism of the anti-war, anti capitalist Iranian student and youth movements.
Campaign Iran fails to “inform the peace movement” that the clerics who set up the first islamic regime in our region 28 years ago are amongst its most hated rulers. Iran’s clerics have created one of the most corrupt, unequal and, of course, undemocratic regimes ever known. We are talking of a country where the phrase ‘political islam’ is considered synonymous with ‘Mercedes-driven mullahs’, where the majority of the population and in particular the youth do not trust a word uttered by their leaders. Does this sound like a regime capable of fighting an anti-imperialist war?
Campaign Iran also fails to mention one of the most pertinent facts about the current situation in the Middle East: the US-UK invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq is directly responsible for Iran’s emergence as a regional power. Chalabi, Maleki, Jaafari and other pro-Iranian shias played a crucial role in the US-UK propaganda regarding Iraqi ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Some go as far as blaming Iran for the entire WMD fiasco. Will Campaign Iran inform its supporters that on February 15 2003, when most of us were on demonstrations against the Iraq war, pro-Iran mosques throughout the UK, as well as the Iranian embassy in London, were advising Iraqi shias to write to Tony Blair encouraging him in his warmongering ambitions? That the Iranian government banned any demonstrations opposing the US invasion of Iraq?
Will Campaign Iran remind its supporters that on March 19 2003, when most of us watched in horror as US-UK bombs pounded the Iraqi capital, Iran’s islamic regime was distributing halva (a sweet used at feasts) in celebration? No wonder they celebrated - the imperialist invasion of Iraq gave them unprecedented influence in Iraq.
Supporters of Campaign Iran assert that, given the threat of imperialist war, any criticism of the islamic regime plays into the hands of the pro-war lobby - this is ‘not the right time’ to criticise the clerics in power in Tehran. For some it never has been ‘the right time’ to criticise the theocratic regime: in 1979, for example, it had just deposed the shah, in 1981 it was at war with Iraq and in 1986 we had the Irangate fiasco.
Over the last few years the Iranian student and youth movements have changed dramatically - from a force calling for liberal democracy to one that takes up many of the slogans of the international anti-capitalist movement. Today workers’ protests raising slogans against the neoliberal policies of the regime have become daily events, yet sections of the left in the UK do not think it is ‘the right time’ to mention such struggles. Is this what they mean by ‘anti-imperialism’ and ‘international solidarity’?
As Mike Macnair put it, “Marxists are to shut up about proletarian internationalism and … the workers’ movement in the Middle East … in order to build a broad movement … [But] the dynamic of Marxists shutting up about our elementary ideas … is not that the Marxists win hegemony over the broader movement, but that the capitalist class and its political parties and political methods do so” (Weekly Worker September 14 2006).
HOPI has also been criticised from the other side of the spectrum. Some have argued that our call for “immediate unconditional withdrawal of US-UK troops from the region” will leave minorities in Iraq vulnerable and would set back labour struggles.
On the first issue I am afraid the claim that western troops are there to support ‘minorities’ and stop civil wars is not seriously believed by anybody in the Middle East. Rather it shows a profound ignorance of the strong anti-colonial, anti-imperialist sentiment in the region. Although some national or religious conflicts, such as the sunni-shia divide, have their roots in events that happened many centuries ago, there is no doubt that over the last two centuries almost every sectarian/civil war in the region has been fuelled by colonial or imperialist intervention. Current borders, themselves the source of disputes and war, are direct consequences of colonial and imperialist intervention. Colonial powers fermented divide and rule across the region (for example, in the way Kurdish borders were set up after the collapse of the Ottoman empire) in order to weaken the emerging states.
The intentional or unintentional US-UK support for shia rule in Iraq has added to this situation and every day the occupying US troops remain increases the ranks of islamist fighters and jihadists. Immediate and unconditional withdrawal is essential if we want to see an end to daily carnage and mayhem in our region.
As far as workers’ struggles are concerned, anyone who has followed the daily confrontations with the Iranian regime will have no doubt that, faced with the ravages of neoliberal capitalism and a theocratic state that uses repression to control the labour movement, a factory worker (say, in the Iran Khodro car plant) who goes on strike or takes part in a demonstration in Tehran is not simply demanding trade union rights or even just fighting a religious state. That worker is well aware that his/her struggle is as much against international capitalism and the Peugeot/Renault or Saipa factory owners as it is against local management. He/she believes that, despite differences and inter-imperialist rivalries, imperialist military presence in our region will in the long term support the interests of both international capital and ruthless local capitalists, such as those of Iran Khodro. Try explaining to such a worker why he/she should support US military presence in the region in the interests of the labour movement.
Over the last decade both the Iranian economy and the labour movement have changed dramatically. Young workers have internet access and are often well informed on international issues. Today’s labour movement is not limiting itself to trade union struggles, nor is it simply fighting ‘islamic’ capitalists and their legislation. Its leaflets and declarations show it to be against capitalism, imperialism and, of course, western military intervention.
What is more, to reduce the Iranian workers’ movement to minimalist economic struggles is to underestimate and ignore the historic role of our class in leading revolutionary battles. After all, this is the working class that played a crucial role in the overthrow of the shah’s regime.
The same comrades object to our opposition to Israel’s aggression in the region. But for the Iranian left the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been a major issue, and the continued US financial/military support for Israel is correctly regarded as part and parcel of imperialist strategy in the Middle East, adversely affecting radical political struggle throughout the region. In addition, for those of us who refuse to take a hypocritical stance on nuclear weapons - turning a blind eye to the Zionist state, while condemning the aims of the islamic regime - the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a separate issue.
And finally a response to an anti-imperialist US academic regarding HOPI, who believes that we are campaigning on “distinct issues that should be separated for an effective campaign”. While “75% of Americans oppose any kind of military threat against Iran, let alone war” and “opposition to the Iranian theocracy is even more overwhelming”, there is no basis for demanding “radical internal change within the western industrial societies” - the “groundwork for that call hasn’t been laid”.
If we accept that wars are the continuation of politics by other means, there is no doubt that, whatever the outcome of the current stage of conflict between Iran’s islamic republic and the United States, in the long term only “regime change from below” in both countries can kill the spectre of war. Our founding statement asserts this, in line with our understanding of the position socialists should take in the anti-war movement.
Of course, no-one claims that our call will mobilise the US or UK masses right now. However, for us the issue is not about setting up the usual short-lived and often meaningless ‘broad’ campaign and implicitly accepting the hegemony of bourgeois ideas in the hope this will make us more popular. It is about advancing the cause of the international working class.
We will maintain our principles, however difficult that might be. HOPI has made its stand and it is now up to others to choose. I certainly hope many in the British and European left will show similar courage and determination.
Yassamine Mather (repost)