Forty years of Iran’s unfinished revolution
The diversity of the social classes that participated in the 1979 revolution in Iran was unique. Was this reflected in the power structures arising from the revolution? If not, why not?
The participation of diverse social classes and strata in the revolution was a direct by-product of the class orientation of the shah’s regime and the economic and social policies imposed by it.
The shah’s dictatorship was a client regime and the national economy dominated by the interests of the comprador bourgeoisie under the ever-increasing influence of imperialist capital. The shah’s policies to accelerate the development of capitalism and rapid economic growth from the massive flow of petrodollars in the 1960s and ’70s adversely affected the position of many social classes. The middle strata became ever more squeezed and pressure mounted on the petty bourgeoisie, with the weakening of the economic positions of sections of the national bourgeoisie as well.
The spectrum of forces consisting of millions of people — from workers, peasants and the petty bourgeoisie to sections of the small and medium national bourgeoisie — were expecting clear benefits from participating in the revolution. However, although the working class played a significant role in the victory of the revolution, nevertheless the emerging political structure mainly reflected the interests of sections of the traditional petty bourgeoisie and merchant bourgeoisie, due to their close links with the clergy and sections of the national bourgeoisie.
Is it accurate to call 1979 an ‘Islamic revolution’?
The ruling theocratic regime’s propaganda claims that the people of Iran came to the streets to topple the regime of the shah in order to establish the “rule of Islam.” In reality, the 1979 revolution had a clear social and class basis that was aimed at removing the destructive influence of imperialist monopolies, securing Iran’s economic and political independence, establishing justice and democratising political and cultural life.
The 1979 revolution came to be led by religious forces for several critical reasons. Over the 25 years that followed the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup, while the left forces — especially the Tudeh Party of Iran, the nationalist forces and, later on, the guerilla movements, including the People’s Fadaian and People’s Mojahedin — were heavily suppressed by the security forces, the clergy were allowed to use their networks, mosques and religious events to organise and promote their agenda – political Islam.
What is the role of the Supreme Religious Leader in the governance structures operating?
The Iranian political system is a theocratic dictatorship, in which the “Supreme Religious Leader” sits above the law. He can instruct parliament what to debate or not and appoint the heads of the judiciary, the Revolutionary Guards and the armed forces. He has the power to remove the president and all key ministerial appointments require his blessing.
After the overthrow of the shah, the Tudeh Party assessed the Islamist forces controlling the leadership of the revolution as revolutionary and potentially progressive. Why?
The Iranian revolution successfully completed its political phase of overthrowing the shah’s despotic regime. It was clear to our party that for the revolution to succeed it needed to evolve into its social phase and replace the socio-economic order it had inherited from the shah. The key aspects of our party’s political platform — including the nationalisation of banks and multinational companies, as well as land reform — were carried out in the first twelve months after the revolution.
Our party, in its assessment of the early years of revolution, concluded that in our policy of “critical unity” with Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers, we were perhaps more concerned with unity than being critical of some of the policies that clearly were not in line with revolutionary ideals and the people’s demands. It is clear that had the left-democratic forces managed to come together, it would have been possible to change the balance of forces politically in the country for a different outcome.
Subsequently, as the course of events unfolded, the Tudeh Party moved to the position that the 1979 revolution had failed. Why?
Constant US imperialist and reactionary interference in Iran, including the imposition of the imperialist-instigated Iraq-Iran War and its unnecessary continuation by Khomeini’s decree, provided the backdrop for Khomeini and his followers to consolidate their power as a theocratic regime. Putting a stop to the land reform programme, giving major concessions to the reactionary traditional bourgeoisie, closing the universities under the slogan of an “[Islamic] cultural revolution,” purging the left and democratic forces, attacking national minorities and severely limiting women’s rights and those of religious minorities, are all indicative of the shift in the policies of Khomeini and his followers which halted the revolution and reversed its initial gains. Within a matter of three years, Khomeinists were attacking all left and democratic forces, one by one, in order to establish their absolute rule in Iran. In 1983 our party was attacked by the regime and more than 10,000 members and supporters, as well as leaders and cadres of the party were arrested.
Important radical anti-imperialist measures were carried out in the very early days of the revolution, leading some to still consider the current leadership of Iran ‘anti-imperialist’. Do you agree with this definition?
A key characteristic of the 1979 revolution was its anti-imperialist outlook, its opposition to US political interference in our country and the plundering of our national resources. The theocratic leadership, with its deeply reactionary hostility and suspicion of the West’s modernity, effectively hijacked the revolution’s anti-imperialist aspirations and repackaged them in the form of an adventurous and dangerous anti-American foreign policy.
Clearly, the regime’s confrontation with the US was not based on the same understanding of anti-imperialism as the left and our party, which opposes the destructive hegemony of monopoly capital on the world stage. The regime certainly opposes the efforts of anti-imperialist forces to unite and work together to build a different world. It is important to note that during the last three decades the regime’s macro-economic programme has been based on IMF and World Bank prescriptions and the implementation of harsh neoliberal economic restructuring.
The Iranian regime’s ideal socio-economic model is capitalism wrapped in empty Islamist slogans.
Is the theocratic regime homogeneous or is there any genuine opposition? Which forces, other than Islamists, are currently involved in the leading governance structures of the Islamic Republic of Iran?
There are clearly major factions within the regime, with differences in terms of policy and implementation. These factions represent the political-economic interests of powerful sections of capital. While these factions have collided with each other and aggressively compete for influence, ultimately they always unite around the Supreme Religious Leader against any threat to the ruling dictatorship upon which their interests depend. Currently, no other force but Islamists have any real influence within the power structure in Iran.
What are the objectives of the social forces against the regime and how does that relate to objectives the Tudeh Party is pursuing at this stage of the struggle?
Forty years after the victory of the 1979 revolution, Iran needs fundamental and democratic change. Our peoples’ movement has, through the objective experience of taking part in various elections over the past two decades, reached the conclusion that the current system of theocratic dictatorship cannot be reformed from within and that we need therefore to challenge the very rule of the religious leadership.
In 2018, our country witnessed protests in 80 cities demanding an end to the regime’s disastrous economic policies, corruption and clerical rule. Over the past four months workers’ protests in key industries such as steel and the automotive sector have escalated with demands for democratic rights and an end to privatisation. Devastating economic mismanagement by the regime has rendered Iran vulnerable to destructive US economic sanctions.
The Tudeh Party believes that the future of our country and its political system must be determined by the Iranian people alone, without external interference. Our party’s immediate plan is to achieve the following objectives: safeguarding national sovereignty, rolling back the neoliberal economic policies of the Islamic Republic, fair redistribution of materials and wealth and the realisation of democratic freedoms and social justice.
We believe that this requires the formation of a united anti-dictatorial front through the mobilisation of all social forces and the emergence of a strong union of left and progressive forces with the effective participation of the working class. The most urgent task of the progressive forces in Iran is to work together to prepare the ground to put an end to the absolute rule of the Supreme Religious Leader once and for all, in order to open the way for fundamental democratic and enduring change in our country.