Internationalism must be a principle which we make concrete, writes Dave Isaacson
The level of repression against radical activists and voices of opposition to the Islamic Republic in Iran has increased in the recent weeks. Activists from the students’, women’s and workers’ movements, as well as those from national and religious minorities, have all suffered violent attacks and arrests. Eight labour activists from the Haft Tapeh sugarcane factory union in southern Iran have been detained by the intelligence ministry, including Ali Nejati, the president of the board of directors of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company Workers’ Syndicate, who was arrested on March 8.
Thousands of workers and their relatives have engaged in protests, strikes and sit-ins over the past couple of years. Many have been charged with “acting against national security” – an allegation used frequently by the regime against labour and social activists. Ahmadinejad’s government is trying to impose the Islamic Labour Council – a state-sponsored agency – on workers in order to undermine their own independent organisation. However, workers have overwhelmingly boycotted elections to the Islamic Council, which is considered a repressive force that supports government and employers.
The regime also mobilised its repressive forces to prevent activists marking International Women’s Day on March 8. Women activists had called a gathering for Warsaw Park in Tehran, but security forces blocked the entrance. Students of Shiraz University in southern Iran had also planned a meeting, but buses carrying students were stopped and students were forced to give their details.
The most serious incident occurred outside Malat Park in Mashhad, where when 700 women had gathered to celebrate International Women’s Day. Fifty were arrested and transferred to an unknown location. At one point the security forces attacked the women in an attempt to disperse the demonstrators, but they fought back bravely with bricks and stones.
On February 18, Sussan Razani and Shiva Kheirabadi, two women labour activists, were flogged inside the central prison in Sanandaj, capital of the Iranian Kurdistan province. Razani was given 70 lashes and Kheirabadi 15. they had been prosecuted because of their role in a May Day celebration in May 2008. The court also sentenced two other working class activists, Abdullah Khani and Syed Ghalib Husseini, to prison terms and flogging for their part in the same event.
Four other men, whose identities were not given, were hanged on March 9 in a prison in Zahedan, according to the official state news agency, IRNA. They were accused of kidnapping and murder – a charge regularly (mis)used against political opponents of the regime. Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-va-Baluchistan province, and Baluchis are a predominantly Sunni Muslim national minority.
These are just a few examples of a wave of repression being unleashed in the run-up to the Iranian presidential elections to be held on June 12 this year. All voices opposing the Islamic Republic must be cowed.
The international media did report the February 23-24 protests at Amir Kabir polytechnic university in Tehran, which ended with violent attacks by Revolutionary Guards and the basij militia and the arrest of over 70 students. Prior to this comrades from Students for Equality and Freedom in Iran (SEF) had informed us of the arrest of two of their activists – Mohammad Pourabdollah and Alireza Davoudi:
“On the morning of February 12 2009, the forces of the regime arrested Mohammad Pourabdollah in a brutal attack on his house in Tehran. He has been kept in Evin prison since then. There is no recent news from his situation and he has had no contact with his family. Mohammad, a chemical engineering student at the University of Tehran, was one of the 50 SEF students who were arrested last year following Student Day celebrations. Alireza Davoudi was taken from his home in Isfahan by regime forces and transferred to an unknown place. He is a well known student activist at the University of Isfahan who was arrested last spring and subjected to physical and mental torture” (Letters Weekly Worker February 19).
On February 23 SEF comrades at the University of Tehran held a protest demanding the release of the two. On the same day over at Amir Kabir, another university in Tehran, hundreds of students gathered for the first of two protests at the site on campus where the remains of five members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, ‘martyrs’ who died during the 1980-88 war with Iraq, were being reburied.
Iran’s supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has insisted that commemorating such people is a duty for each and every Iranian: “Our nation, mainly our youth, are indebted to the martyrs.” Protesters said they feared that the government would use the presence of the war graves in universities as a pretext for official suppression of demonstrations, which might be deemed ‘disrespectful’. This would also have allowed the basij increased access to the campus in order to police student activities.
Despite all these pressures, and the presence of the Revolutionary Guards and basij, the students defiantly chanted slogans such as “Dictator of the day, the war dead have become your excuse”, “Death to the dictator”, “We don’t want a fascist regime”, “Basiji get lost” and “Guns, tanks, basijis are no use any more”, immediately before the reburial ceremony on February 23.
The protesters were viciously attacked. Over 60 students were injured and around 20 taken to hospital with injuries consistent with the use of knives and knuckle-dusters as well as fists. Photos and videos of the assault, captured on student mobile phones, can be seen at www.autnews.us/archives/1387,12,00017569 and www.youtube.com/watch?v=UytG8w ByRIQ.
There were further clashes and arrests on February 24 and over 70 students were arrested and many still remain in prison. Students are saying that their campus is being turned into a graveyard and Tehran’s notorious Evin prison is being turned into a university due to the number of students held there.
Subsequently four more of Students for Equality and Freedom – Amirhosein Mohammadifar, Sanaz Allahyari, Nasim Roshanai and Maryam Sheikh – were arrested. It goes without saying that as communists we demand the release of these comrades, and of all political prisoners held by the Islamic Republic. We stand in solidarity with all students, workers and women who are fighting the regime.
Equally, we understand that that the war threats and sanctions emanating from the US and other imperialist countries make the position of our comrades in Iran more difficult. It gives the theocratic regime the perfect excuse to crack down on internal dissent. It is no accident that so many political opponents to the regime are arrested on the pretext of being stooges of foreign powers. The war threats play directly into the hands of the regime.
However, while the bulk of the left (excluding the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) are clear in their opposition to any attack on Iran, they are less than clear about the position they take with regard to the Iranian regime and its attacks on movements inside Iran.
Much of the left makes the mistake of believing that that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’: reactionary states in conflict with imperialism must be supported – or at least opposition to them suspended. This is the ‘anti-imperialism’ of fools. It is a class-collaborationist politics which leads ‘socialists’ to take a side other than that of the working class.
When the US sent ships into the Gulf in 1987 in a show of support for Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war, according to Phil Marshall of the Socialist Workers Party, this meant that, “notwithstanding the reactionary nature of the Khomeini regime, socialists should therefore support Khomeini’s military campaign against Iraq and the west, while retaining their complete political independence of the regime” (Revolution and counterrevolution in Iran London 1988, p106). But this “political independence” did not stop Socialist Worker from opposing strikes. In its November 28 1987 edition it argued: “We have no choice but to support the Khomeini regime … socialists should not call for the disruption of military supplies to the front … should not support actions which could lead to the collapse of the military effort.” A shameful position.
Earlier this year, the SWP appeared to take up a different line. Its article marking the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution of 1979 noted: “Khomeini and his allies argued that national unity was needed to defeat the US. Any dissenters were enemies of the revolution. The left didn’t know how to respond … The left’s failure to organise independently among workers and the poor to fight for socialism allowed Khomeini to consolidate power” (Socialist Worker January 20). But the article made no mention of the working class movement in Iran today – the SWP has virtually nothing to say about the repression of activists by the regime.
Indeed at the last conference of the Stop the War Coalition in October 2007 it was SWP comrades who lead the rapturous applause for Campaign Iran’s Somaya Zadeh when she belittled the repressive actions of the Iranian state in an astonishing display of apologetics. She outlined what she saw as five “lies”. ‘Lie’ number five was that “Iran is an undemocratic and repressive country” (see Weekly Worker November 1 2007).
Internationalism must be more than something we mention in ‘Where we stand’ statements and Sunday afternoon meetings. It is a principle which we must make concrete. We must stand in solidarity with our comrades around the world, whether the states they are fighting happen to be in conflict with US interests or not.
This does not mean we do not also oppose US imperialism. Our movement must be able to walk and chew gum.